In an effort to steer conversations in a kinder direction, Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the GNU project, has announced the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines.

The guidelines were created after a conversation that GNU development pushes people like women away. “The GNU Project encourages contributions from anyone who wishes to advance the development of the GNU system, regardless of gender, race, religion, cultural background, and any other demographic characteristics, as well as personal political views,” Stallman wrote in a post. “People are sometimes discouraged from participating in GNU development because of certain patterns of communication that strike them as unfriendly, unwelcoming, rejecting, or harsh. This discouragement particularly affects members of disprivileged demographics, but it is not limited to them. Therefore, we ask all contributors to make a conscious effort, in GNU Project discussions, to communicate in ways that avoid that outcome—to avoid practices that will predictably and unnecessarily risk putting some contributors off.

Instead of addressing the situation with a code of conduct, Stallman decided to go with a guideline to encourage participants to help each other out and avoid harsh communication. “I identified various patterns of our conversation (which is almost entirely textual, not vocal) that seem likely to chase women away — and some men, too.  Some patterns came from events that happened in the discussion itself.  Then I wrote suggestions for how to avoid them and how to help others avoid them.  I received feedback from many of the participants, including some women. I practiced some of these suggestions personally and found that they had a good effect. That list is now the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines,” Stallman wrote in an email.

According to Stallman, the guidelines differ from a code of conduct in its approach. A code of courde states rules with consequences. Many maintainers were resistant to a code of conduct approach. “The idea of the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines is to start guiding people towards kinder communication at a point well before one would even think of saying, ‘You are breaking the rules.’  The way we do this, rather than ordering people to be kind or else, is try to help people learn to make their communication more kind,” Stallman explained.

The current version of the guidelines are not set in stone. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

The guidelines suggest that participants assume others are posting in good faith, to think about how to treat other participants with respect even if you disagree with them, not to take a harsh tone, recognize criticism is not a personal attack, and be kind to others when they make a mistake.The full version of the guidelines is available here.