Categories
Community industry Professional development Self development

Women rising – how to succeed in community management

The community profession – the work of bringing people together – is ideal for women who have stronger skills in relationship building, empathy and cooperation according to science. Many talented and passionate women have been successful in the community management profession. 

But there are many challenges that are holding women back in the community profession and I’ve unfortunately seen some of these first hand. On International Women’s Day, I’ve taken some time to reflect and add to a talk I gave a year ago about women and community building.

What does it take for women to succeed in community?

Right now, we’re not seeing equity for women in terms of representation, pay, opportunity, or recognition. What changes do we need to see for everyone, especially women? 

I’ll share three not so secret ingredients below…

What are the ingredients to help women succeed and progress?

1. Inclusion matters.

We need to make it easier for people to enter the community profession and to progress their careers. How? Start with the hiring and project pitching process.

Be consistent and clear in the timescales for hiring

If you say a vacancy is open for applications until 12pm on  31 March, keep it open until then. Too many vacancies are closing early. In my 7 years experience of hiring people, the best and most interesting vacancies come in toward the end. Why? People are taking time to thoughtfully write their application. Or they have life commitments. By closing vacancies early, you could exclude people with disabilities, carers, or parents. Not cool. 

Be open in where you’re advertising your opportunities. 

In the UK, the ‘old school tie network’ refers to a privileged private school world (usually men-only) where deals are made and jobs secured behind closed doors. Similar networks sadly exist in community building and they gatekeep everyone else. By sharing your opportunities for jobs and projects in public spaces, you invite a wider pool of people to get in touch. You’ll hear new ideas, reach new people, and tap into new markets for your business.  

Be transparent on pay. 

We could reduce the gender gap by a staggering 40% but the community job boards are STILL full of roles where you have to be a street magician to guess the salary and offer. How do you know if you can get the job if you don’t know if you can pay your bills or take maternity leave? We need this to change, not just for women but for everyone. If you’re a hiring manager, a leader, or run a community job board – sort it out. By being clear with your offer you save time all around.

a mosaic style artwork with triangles in different colours with the words You Belong painted on in a handwriting style
Inclusion matters – women should have equal access to opportunities

2. Representation matters.

We need to see the work and voices of women represented consistently in the community profession. This includes at senior levels. How can women have opportunities to progress? 

They need to be seen.

When a woman is seen, this means they are recognised and accepted for who they are. We need to see workplaces that see women’s lives, their health, and their wellbeing and not just the work that they do. We also need to ensure that women are recognised for their contributions. If a woman has led on a piece of work, give her the platform, or the credit. 

They need to be respected.

We need to see the work of women respected by the leaders in their organisations and their profession. Champion the women who are doing great work. If a woman does great work and an organisation doesn’t reward them appropriately, take note. 

There are red flags to look out for.

Sadly, there is evidence that the work of women community builders has been played down or ignored in the community profession. To stop this cycle continuing, there are things we can do. If you’re part of an organisation that isn’t recognising the work of women you can try and find an opportunity to respectfully challenge this. If this pattern continues, it may be a sign of a toxic culture. In that case, I’d recommend finding the earliest opportunity to leave.

a group of women who are sitting at the same table are working on a project together with one woman leading them through content on a laptop screen
Women need to be represented and recognised for their community building work

3. Integrity matters.

When we’re in the business of fostering trust, we need to keep integrity at the heart of what we do. We need to follow the examples of our leaders, and set examples for others to follow.

Our values matter.

Key to integrity is staying true to our own values. When we build communities we have control over how people are welcomed, how we keep people safe, and how we recognise our communities. When we lead community teams we have control over how we support and challenge our teams. When we represent an organisation we have control over how we respond to change and culture. 

We need to navigate conflicts.

Another side of integrity is considering when work may be conflicting with our own values, or what we expect from our workplaces. How do we respond if we see abuse and harassment? How do we handle dishonesty and harmful decision making?

Boundaries are vital.

We need to draw boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. When those boundaries are crossed or we see things that concern us; we need the confidence to challenge, or the wisdom to step away altogether. We need to lead with our hearts, and with our feet.

woman looking upward and unsure, and is standing against a plain background
We face challenges when staying true to our values at work

What do we do next? The power of ‘we’

I’ve explained the importance of inclusion, representation and integrity for everyone in the community profession, but especially women. So what do we do next? 

We’re in this together.

Our own professional communities matter as much if not more than the ones we build in our jobs. We need to invest time in building a network of peer support: a space to be honest, to ask questions, to share what you’ve learned, and to help each other out. 

Is there a space for a network of women in the community profession? 

How can we create spaces to share experiences, foster trust and encouragement, find ways to lift each other up, create networks to champion each other and nudge great women into opportunities we know they’d thrive in?

Women in community – I’d love to hear from you! If you’d be interested in being part of a network like this or know that one already exists, let me know. Together we are stronger, better, safer.    

a group of women dressed in work wear sit around a table having a discussion with friendly expressions and listening to the speaker
Is there space for a network of women in community building?
Categories
Professional development Self development

When is it time to leave your community role?

We need to talk about leaving

Remember the fresh exciting feeling of starting a new job? We hear a lot about the value of onboarding in community circles because it’s vital that our members and the professionals that build communities feel welcomed and supported.

However, we don’t hear a lot about the process of leaving or closing – whether that’s a community member phasing out, having to close a project, or leaving a community role.  

It can be hard to leave something that is familiar. It’s especially difficult to leave a team that you care about, or an organisation that aligns with your personal values. On the other hand it can be equally tough to make a decision if you’re feeling unhappy, stressed, or lack confidence. But sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to leave. 

How do I know this? At the end of January, I left my role as online community lead for a large UK charity. For a while I’d been feeling that it was time to move on, but I wasn’t sure how I could realistically assess if it was the right decision to leave. I started to research the topic, and found the reflection process incredibly helpful. In this blog, I’ll share what I discovered.

man with suitcase walking toward a path with a sunset in front of him
Is it time to head off into the professional sunset?

Five reasons you may be ready to leave your community role

1. There is no room to progress 

It can feel comfortable to be in a job where you are confident in getting most things done, but after a while this comfort zone can start to feel frustrating. You may be ready for more responsibility but have no opportunity to do so. You may want to develop new skills but find that there is no time for you to learn or you can’t get resources to attend events or receive training. 

If you find that you’ve outgrown the job or that you’ve delivered above and beyond its requirements, it may be time for a new role. The benefits? You’ll gain new skills, stretch your professional experience, and hopefully receive better pay to reflect your skillset.

Building with painted graffiti of a sunflower with white writing saying 'always room to grow'
Sometimes we need to leave in order to grow

2. There are too many demands

We live in a fast-paced and busy world, but that doesn’t mean we can handle 100 things at once or work endless hours for long periods of time. If you’re unable to keep up with the regular tasks and know that you have the right skills, it may be a sign that your team needs more capacity. 

If you are being asked to meet targets that aren’t possible and too quickly, it could be a sign that the leadership doesn’t understand or respect the benefits of longer-term relationship building. 

If you realise that you’re skipping breaks and routinely working a lot of extra hours, the job may already be negatively impacting your work-life balance. If you’re not able to put boundaries back in place or get additional resources or support, it may be time to leave. 

Hand outstretched from the waves in the sea, as if crying out for help
If the job is overwhelming, it may be time to go

3. The job is hurting you

Sometimes a job can become harmful to your health and safety. If you’re handling a lot of conflict, complaints or supporting vulnerable people, the job can become emotionally heavy. You may find yourself on the receiving end of harassment or find you are constantly fire-fighting. In some cases, this can be sustainable if you are given the right levels of support and resources. 

However, take caution if you’re noticing the job is impacting on your mood, your sleep, or your ability to relax. If you’re becoming unwell or experiencing burnout due to the demands of the role, I’d urge you to seek medical support. But if this continues, it may be safer to leave. 

Man in hoody is sat down with hands across his face as if he is exhausted or upset
When the role starts to impact on your wellbeing, it could be a warning sign

4. It’s not for you 

Sometimes we discover that a job isn’t for us. Perhaps you’re not happy in your role, or you don’t feel your skills are the right fit. This can happen if you’ve taken a job that sounded like community building but is actually much more about marketing or sales. 

On the other hand, you may realise that your experience is best suited to other communications disciplines like marketing, media relations or social media management where the focus is more on audience, campaign, or brand management.

Black box mounted to a wall with a red exit sign inside
Sometimes a job isn’t right for us, and it’s time to find something that is…

5. You want something new 

What if the other reasons don’t apply and you still feel ready to leave? Sometimes you can simply feel like your role is no longer fresh. You may feel it’s time for a change of focus, to move into a different type of job, or to specialise in another area of community management. 

You may feel inspired to try out a new vertical, for example a move from software support to developer relations. You might want to try a different type of community building, moving from event based communities to online communities of practice. Or you may have developed a lot of experience and have become a ‘go-to’ person in your niche, inspiring you to go freelance!

Alarm clock with a gold case and gold bells at the top, a white face, and black numbers and clock hands
Sometimes, it is simply time for something new

What if you’re not sure?

You’re conflicted – unsure if you’re unhappy or ready to leave 

Speak to some trusted friends or peers, or reflect with a coach or counsellor. Or get out of your own way! Head to a neutral location, take time to relax and start to think through each reason as if you were observing the role at a distance.

These tactics can help you to remove your immediate personal feelings from the problem and get some additional feedback to help you make an informed decision.

You’re unhappy about some aspects of the role, but not ready to leave 

It may be time to negotiate with your manager. The best way to prepare for the discussion is to consider the impact and likely solutions for the key issues. You could also benchmark what other community teams have in place (as evidence for your proposed changes). Going into the discussion with a constructive set of options will give you the best chance of success. 

If you find that your ideas aren’t taken on board and there’s no good reason for that, it could be a sign that you’re ready to join an organisation where your ideas will be heard.

A path heading in multiple directions
We can feel conflicted when we need to make a big decision

You’re ready to leave but…

Concerned about how to leave a toxic or stressful role? 

Firstly, it’s okay for you to step away from a role that is impacting on your mental or physical health – in fact I’d urge you to do so. Even if the job may pay well or provide status, you can keep the status you’ve earned and most likely find a similar salary elsewhere.

Secondly, reflect on what was stressful and unhealthy about the role or the organisation. This will help you to identify and avoid ‘red flags’ in the future. Thirdly, whatever you may feel about the role, if you leave well and remain professional throughout, you will depart with no regrets. 

Worried about leaving a great team and an inspiring organisation? 

Firstly, reflect on what was so great about this role and identify what matters to you at work. Secondly, use what you have experienced and learned to help you to spot the ‘green flags’ in new opportunities.

Thirdly, know that other great teams and organisations are out there. Take time to network and research opportunities, and speak to your contacts to find out more. 

Brick wall with neon sign that says 'this is the sign you've been looking for'
When you know, you know…

You’ve got this. 

If you’re considering whether the time is right to leave your role, I hope this helps. You have every right to be safe and respected at work, to have opportunities to grow, and to be able to learn new skills.

If you’re raising a cynical brow at my reassurances, remember where you were a couple of years ago and how much you’ve learned since then. You can do it again. 

Further reading:

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-know-when-it-is-time-to-leave-a-job

https://www.tbd.community/en/a/self-test-it-time-leave-your-job

Categories
Motivation Productivity Self development

Getting out of your own way

When it comes to getting things done, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. As community managers, we want to do the best possible job for our communities and our organisations, but it can be difficult to make time for ourselves. It can be even more difficult in a profession that brings people together to push ourselves forward. 

I’ve decided to tackle my own self-imposed obstacle course and get out of my own way. Are you feeling the same way?

In this blog post I’ll reveal the challenges we face, identify some realistic ways forward and share useful resources to help you get things done and make time for self-development and self-care.

A man with bare feet is making his way across a rope bridge in a forest with trees surrounding him and golden sunlight peeping through. Deceptively relaxing in my opinion.
This obstacle course looks deceptively relaxing…

Photo by Stephanie Ecate on Unsplash

Five challenges we face

1. Perfectionism

This is the biggest obstacle for many. Wanting to be the best that you can be seems so positive, but it has a dark side. 

When we fall into the trap of needing our work to be perfect, we can stop trying or give up at the first hurdle.

We give up learning. We avoid anything that’s challenging. We take forever to complete a task by constantly tinkering with our work.

Or we procrastinate by trying to master ‘the secret of doing it 100% right’ and never even start. I’ve been there. 

Wooden scrabble letters read 'done is better than perfect'
Perfectionism is the enemy of good. Done is better than perfect.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

2. Indecision

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I remember the first time I saw cable TV and opened the channel list. Hundreds of channels beyond the five we usually had in the UK. I remember spending about an hour flicking through before heading back to 90s Top of the Pops. 

When you’re facing indecision, it’s difficult to know where to start. Perhaps you’re unsure of the right decision to make or which direction to take. You may have too many ideas and too many choices. 

That last one definitely resonates with me – I have a folder full of content ideas! 

A dark corridor with graffiti and at the end a question mark lit in red and orange neon lights
Decisions, decisions…

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

3. Fear

We don’t like to talk about fear, which is just what it wants us to do. 

Many people feel that fear is the reason that we procrastinate, sink into indecision or avoid trying new things. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. 

Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of consequences. Fear of the unknown. 

I’ve caught myself in a fear spiral of worrying about what would happen if I did something new or different. What if it all went wrong? What if I had the wrong take? It’s such a slippery slope.

A black and white image showing two hands holding up a cardboard banner which says 'what now?'
What now? Such a loaded question!

Photo by Jeff Stapleton from Pexels

4. Uncertainty

If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone mention ‘these uncertain times’ I’d be paying for a copywriter for my blog (kidding!)

The reason why people talk about uncertainty so often is because it is true – we have experienced a lot of unpredictable change.

I’m sure we all know that COVID19 has made the world an uncertain place in our own lives; with a rapid shift to remote working and sudden changes to our plans for 2020. And 2021 …

In society, we’ve experienced several changes to the law regarding what we can do, confusion about government guidance, and a wave of ‘fake news’ about the pandemic.

No wonder we’re feeling uncertain. This extended period of changeability helps some people to thrive but for most of us, it magnifies uncertainty and makes decision making more difficult. 

Photo taken from above and shows two black shoes standing in front of two white arrows - one pointing left and the other pointing right
Uncertain to take any direction, we stand still…

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Overwhelm

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed? I don’t think it’s just me. 

There has been so much to contend with. Our way of working and living may have changed permanently. We may have experienced ill health or loss. We may be concerned about what the next few months will bring. For many people, that is a lot to carry at one time. That might lead us to retreat our energies for now.

The opposite temptation is to want to do it all and to take back control. We may be keen to catch up on lost time – the books we haven’t read, the projects we couldn’t start, or the trips we couldn’t take. We push ourselves to do more. For some people this is a great way to get started. For others, if we aren’t able to sustain our energy, this takes us back to overwhelm.

Image shows what looks like a wall with bushes and vines across it. In the middle a neon sign reads 'breathe'
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s important to breathe. Breathe…

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Five realistic ways forward

When it comes to getting things done, it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ve found five realistic ways that have helped me to move forward with work projects and life admin. If you’re stuck at the moment, why not try one or two of the ideas below …

1. Begin!

It took me a long time to write this post. The idea was in my head weeks ago. I kept returning to my plan – researching the best way to structure content and make my points. If my resistant and uncertain self had its way, I’d still be in draft mode, with nothing done.   

When we move into action mode, we come out of a comfortable place and start testing our ideas. After a while, I really enjoy this flow state of getting things done but it takes that first kickstart to get going. 

If I get stuck, I take myself back to the original idea and try another angle. The maxim ‘learn as you go’ is really helpful here as it helps to be in a mindset that is open to new ideas.

Those people who say ‘just do it’ used to annoy me profoundly. But they’re right.

Board games board with a start square with a blue playing token and two dice
The only way to finish is to first begin

2. Good is good enough

Earlier, I talked about the danger of perfectionism because it stops us trying by trapping us in a never-ending desire to get everything 100% right. We have to resist this urge.

If you struggle with knowing when to stop, consider what the end result could look like. When you reach that end result, you can take a break and then review. Chances are, you’re done!

If you struggle with wanting everything to be perfect, knowing what ‘good’ looks like will help. When you complete a piece of work and it’s good, then you’re done. Good is good enough.

Dark background and a white lightbox with black letters that say 'You are enough'
You are good enough. Your work is good enough.

3. Respond to change

A reluctant convert to mindfulness, I’ve been surprised that it’s helped me to manage change better than anything else. This is because I learned about impermanence

Basically, impermanence is the concept that things are always changing. Nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end. Change is a part of life and our best strategy is to learn how to respond to it.

When we work, it’s important to have a flexible mindset and be open to change taking place. We can can iterate – taking small decisions, or making small changes along the way.

When we face a large project, breaking it into smaller milestones or steps can help it to feel less daunting. When we repeat a task, having a basic outline to follow can keep us on track. 

Everything changes. Learning to respond to change is a vital skill.

4. Focus on priorities

When you have multiple tasks, ideas or projects, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

  • Find your most important things – the top three things you need to get done that day, week, or month. 
  • Consider any deadlines you have or milestones you need to meet.
  • Prioritise anything where you need to make a decision or move a task forward.  This is particularly important if you lead a team.

I’ll repeat another annoying maxim – a good way forward is to start with what needs to be done. 

Pieces of paper scattered in a pile including some pieces that are screwed up. One piece of paper says 'I can do anything not everything'
We can’t do everything, but we can start with what is needed

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

5. Rest 

For many of us, we can feel so much pressure to do everything that we can end up falling at the first hurdle. 

If we put unrealistic pressure on ourselves, this can lead to burnout. In fact one of the key things I’ve learned is this:

“Whenever we treat energy as infinite, burnout is the result.”

I heard this on one of Bruce Daisley’s excellent podcasts on work culture.

A good way forward is to begin, to be happy with good, to respond to change, prioritise what matters, and to accept when we need to rest.

Rest! Enjoy rest! Prioritise rest! Protect rest!

We’re not robots, and hustle culture is for fools.

Picture of a sunset on a beach
Whenever I think of rest, I often imagine a gorgeous beach. Bliss.

Helpful resources

That’s all very well, but how do we actually start this process? Here are some helpful resources to help you to put this into practice.

1. Finding motivation

Find some resources that help you to kick-start and help get you out of the headspace of inactivity. I’d recommend ‘Do the work’ by Stephen Pressfield (read reviews and where to buy), plus this excellent article on how to start the task you’ve been avoiding, and this post on overcoming fear of failure.

2. Planning and using your ideas

There are three parts to this: resources that help you plan out your work like content planners, finding a way to capture good practice and good ideas, and putting time aside to develop, test and use ideas.

In order to get things done, it’s important to make time for focussed work. Taking steps to manage your diary can help. 2-3 weeks ahead, book in time for screen breaks, planning, and focused work. You may have to move a few things for urgent issues from time to time, but it’s helpful to set the intention to plan, focus, and rest.

3. Finding your own system

Everyone will have different ways that work for them when planning, prioritising and managing time. As I have multiple priorities and people/teams to manage, I’ve found that a Kanban style system works best for me. This is because it helps me to organise multiple pieces of work in terms of progress and priority.

I use an adapted version of this excellent mise en place Trello board, created by the person who co-designed the Trello product. Mise-en-place roughly means “everything in its place.” 

4. Blocking distractions 

Once you’ve made time to focus on projects and tasks, it’s important to block out distractions. I’d recommend exiting noisy instant communication apps like Slack or Teams and turning off the email notification in Outlook. Our phones are filled with noisy notifications too so I’d recommend turning as many of those off as possible or using an app like Freedom.

If music helps you, put together playlists that help you to focus and concentrate (I love Chillhop and Radio Lento). It’s also worth finding good quality noise cancelling earbuds or headphones. Earfun Air Pro 2 and Sony Wireless Headphones work really well for me.

5. Getting support

To stay motivated and inspired, it’s important to get support from others. Talk about your roadblocks and challenges with a colleague or peer. If you can, find someone who will hold you accountable in a friendly and supportive way. Speaking of which…

I’m getting out of my own way – but I need your support

Having broken the barriers down, I want to commit to blogging and sharing insights more regularly. I would love to hear from the people who read my blog, particularly those working for non-profits and charities, and those in the community management profession.

I’d love to know what you think and what you’d like to hear more about. My intention is to be helpful!

Categories
Community improvement Community strategy Self development

Plan, do, review – take your community to the next level

Just imagine there’s a ‘life is a race’ metaphor here.

How are you with New Year’s resolutions? Perhaps you’re obsessed with planning and goal setting, or perhaps you shudder at the thought of targets, and colour-coded lists.

Planning isn’t just a January fad, but a helpful way to take your community to the next level.

Are you unsure where to start, or wondering how to create a plan and make it work?

In this blog, I’ve put together some helpful resources and explained how you can apply the ‘Plan Do Review’ model to help advance your community, your team, or your career.

Before you start …

Consider what you’d like to improve, or what you’d like to change.

Have you ever created a community strategy (i.e. studying your organisation’s strategic aims and deciding how your community will meet them)? This excellent article explains how to get started.

Could you put a community roadmap in place to introduce new features or activities? This article from Community Roundtable has great advice on what a roadmap is, how it can help, and how to adjust it to each maturity stage of a community.

Do you want to kick off a project to set targets and goals for your team? If you’re interested in how to help develop and upskill your community team, this comprehensive article will help.

If you want to advance your personal growth and learning, have you put a plan in place? Earlier this week, I got stuck with how to start my own. This insightful and honest review from a community leader I admire really helped me to factor in the importance of reflection, celebration and continuous learning.

light bulb in hands

Step one – plan

Once you’ve chosen what to work on, you’ll need to create a plan.

Start with benchmarking your current position, then consider what you want to change or improve. Be specific and then be selective – don’t try to change everything at once. Consider what would be most helpful. Decide what success will look like and confirm one or two outcomes.

Questions to ask:

Do you have different ideas about how to complete your project? If so, consider the most practical approach to take.

What resources do you need, and do you need to set a timeframe? Consider what works for your goal and your organisational context: you may choose to iterate and work gradually, or have a set target and timeframe.

How will you track progress? Set some milestones and put in breaks to review. If you don’t have a manager, find a mentor or colleague to discuss your project with.

  • For community or team projects, involve your team in generating ideas. Create a ‘community wishlist’ and prioritise ideas as a team. If a team member is excited by an idea, invite them to work with you, or delegate that task to them.
  • For community improvement projects, look at feedback from your community, drawing out comments about what isn’t working well, or suggestions for new features and activities.
  • For community roadmaps, look at your previous year’s programme of work and decide what you will stop, start and continue this year.

Step two – do

Get started!

Seek inspiration by identifying good practice or ask for advice from peers in a community of practice. You may find someone who has worked on a similar project or has solved similar problems.

If you have a big project, set milestones or smaller steps along the way to make it less daunting and help you progress.

Put time aside for focussed work. Test and review as you go. If you want to test how an idea works in practice, involve your team or a small group of active community members.

If you get stuck or overwhelmed, consider what the quick wins are, or limit your focus to one or two key areas. If you scale down to make progress, put everything else on your ‘not for now’ list to revisit later.

If your approach or idea isn’t working, revisit the plan and consider a different tactic. It’s the goal that matters most, not the method!

person writing on a board where there are post it notes

Step three – review

When you review, start by assessing your original goal, benchmark and success measure.

Did you meet your goal and if so, what difference has this made? What positive impact has this had? What needs have been met, or what problem has been solved?

What went well? Take time to celebrate good work and consider what you or your team found most enjoyable. If you’ve identified future project ideas or resources, add them to your ‘future projects’ list.

Don’t shy away from the things that didn’t work. Identify the specific things that didn’t go to plan. Do you know why? Identify what you learned or what could be done differently next time.

When you review, capture your key insights so you can use them to demonstrate achievements and lessons learned.

What photographers think success looks like. You say potato…

Toddlers, and trying again

Finally, I thought I’d share a pearl of wisdom that struck me when watching this strangely compelling viral video of a toddler race set to the theme from Rocky III:

Create a plan, find your own way to progress and if you hit a roadblock, keep going!

Find your own way and whatever happens, keep going!

(Credits: the viral video’s most likely source is this tweet. Original video from semi-pro basketball player and podcaster Will Ferris)

Categories
Community operation Self development

Empathy: why it matters and how to use it in your online community

Why empathy matters 

Who cares? Why does empathy matter and how does it make a difference in a business setting?

Empathy isn’t a fluffy discipline but is incredibly important for effective communication and valuable to any professional communicator.

We all know what bad communication looks like – times when a message seems tone deaf, where you’ve not been listened to, they’ve missed the point or worse, patronised you.

When you feel this way, you’ll disengage, trust will be damaged and you may even walk away. In a community setting that’s bad news, particularly for the organisation you work for. 

Community is about connection – about fostering mutually beneficial relationships between people with a shared experience, and those relationships benefit the organisation as well.

Empathy drives connection.

When you feel heard and supported, you want to continue that positive relationship. When you feel understood you’re likely to feel like you belong and that encourages you to return. When you feel like you belong, you’re more likely to want to support the community, or the organisation it represents. You may even champion it.

What empathic communication involves

Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s about considering the other person, their words, and their experiences. This means having a laser focus on what they say. This means you meet the person where they’re at.

It’s not about jumping straight to your own experience, making judgements or comparisons, or telling someone what to do in a forceful or patronising way. This leads to a person feeling like they’re not an equal or worse, that they shouldn’t have bothered saying anything. 

How to apply empathy

The best way to apply empathy is to learn to read a message as if the person is speaking to you. Tuning into someone else takes time and effort to do.

You’ll find yourself doing the following:

  • Looking at the words they use
  • Noticing the formatting of the message (bold, colours)
  • Looking for the big things they’re saying (or not saying)
  • Observing the emotions used
  • Noting any key questions.

Before replying, you’ll ask yourself ‘what’s the big thing it seems this person needs?’ and ‘what don’t they need?’

Constructing an empathic response

Your answer will consider what you’ve observed.

Book bin that says: Think before you speak. Read before you think.

You’ll avoid making judgements. You’ll summarise what the person said. If you want further clarity you might ask questions or say what it sounds like the person is saying. You might give the person options of things they could do, or ask them follow-up questions if you’re not sure.

You’ll re-read the message to be sure you’ve got it right. After all, your aim is to meet the person where they’re at, and encourage the person to keep in touch.

Setting boundaries

When we support other people as part of our jobs, we can feel that we need to solve everyone’s problems. Unmanaged, that responsibility leads to burnout.

Empathy should have two steps: we listen and show we’ve listened, and we give options of information/support or further help. 

Remember – empathy is just about understanding and connection. Keeping this clear boundary in place means you can be confident you’ve done all you can. 

graffiti message says you got this

Learning as you go

Empathy comes naturally to some people, but to others it feels uncomfortable. If you’re in the business of connecting people, it’s important to know the tools to connect with others, and empathy will definitely help you to do that.

Keep trying, and keep revisiting those key listening skills mentioned earlier. Make empathy a key skill for your team and plan to talk about how to take a supportive and listening approach to your communication. In time, empathy will become part of the way you support your community.

I’ll end with a challenge – remember the times you really felt you were listened to, you really felt like you belonged. Think of the difference it made. That’s why empathy matters.

Categories
Community advice Self development

Self care strategies – part two

This is part two of a blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part one]

Looking after yourself is a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people. Here are five more self-care strategies that help motivate and empower you, and keep you safe from burnout.

6. Look at ways to scale support for your community

Consider whether there are options to increase support for you and your community.

Get an agreement not only about your own responsibility for ‘out of hours’ but identify who could offer support so you can take leave. You may want to delegate to others in your team to cover agreed tasks, or to agree an ‘urgent queries only’ cover with another colleague working in a service user support role. Set clear expectations and ensure they’re clear on what’s expected, by sharing your processes, FAQs or letting them shadow you.

Look at other ways where you could agree support. For example you could ask colleagues with subject knowledge to help answer hot topic queries, or even answer questions on your community. You could agree an escalation process or a knowledge sharing agreement with your Helpline on more complex or emotive queries.

If you have a staff team, make sure you can all cover your basic BAU tasks like email enquiries and moderation. If your community is growing and you have an active member base, consider inviting members to support the tasks of welcoming others, being helpful, and flagging problems. You may also want to consider giving experienced members the opportunity to help with moderation. This can radically increase the effectiveness of handling spam and urgent issues, particularly out of office hours.

picture of toy monkeys in a chain of support with the background of a blue sky

7. Take breaks

This is obvious advice but I think people in digital support roles need to hear that they have permission to step away from their community and their day job. Your community is probably open 24/7 but you shouldn’t be.

This can be as simple as setting screen breaks, or checking in with other colleagues during the day to switch perspective. There are notable benefits of stepping away from your screen, particularly in the evenings.

If you can (and it works for you) agree at least one day out of office on a regular basis particularly for planning or development tasks when you may need to get your head down and focus. Set expectations with your team or with colleagues.

Most importantly, ensure you use annual leave – you’re entitled to it! Spend that time doing the things that matter to you.

8. Learn reflective practice

Reflective practice is so important for community managers as so much of your job is about handling issues, resolving conflicts and balancing the expectations of your organisation and also your community members.

You may be faced with emotionally charged conflicts, waves of resistance or abusive responses to moderation. An avalanche of issues can lead you to question your decision making and affect your confidence.

Reflect on how you respond to issues – not only what you say but how you say it. Catch yourself doing it right, as well as assessing responses that could have gone better. Consider your own emotional response.

Look on feedback as an opportunity to improve, or a way to recognise what is already working well.

I’d recommend spending time coming up with a list of ‘review’ questions that you can use to support yourself or others on your team. See the reflective practice model below for an idea of what to include.

When a challenging issue comes along (particularly an upsetting one), you can reassure yourself and your team by working through those questions and checking in on what you did well and could do differently.

9. Build your support network

Community management can be tough, and it can be an isolating role.

Build a network of support for multiple reasons – for buy-in, peer support, debriefing, advice and constructive challenge.

Start with people in your team, or people who also have user-facing roles in your organisation to offload, share perspectives and build a mutually helpful approach. This will prove especially helpful when you need to take a united approach to handling a major reputational issue.

Find people in similar organisations and build connections and trust. Ask questions, seek support, share war wounds (yes, this!) and explore ideas.

There are a number of comms-focused communities of practice in the UK charity sector, including Digital Charities on Slack, Third Sector PR and Comms Network on Facebook. For those running peer support communities there’s Modbods on Facebook.

Outside of the charity sector, the CMX Hub and CR Table groups on Facebook are worth a look to connect with others working in community management.

Try to find someone who has similar – ideally greater – knowledge and experience. No one knows everything. Find a mentor if you can, and make use of their experience to grow. Finding someone who will respectfully challenge you will help you to improve.

10. Redress the balance

Finally, one of the best ways to look after yourself is to take a balanced approach.

In this job you may handle difficult issues, support people in distress and take responsibility for resolving conflict. This comes with an emotional ‘cost’.

Redress the balance of handling heavy things by spending time doing things that make you feel energised.

What is meaningful and uplifting for you?

I support people who are distressed, bereaved and feel isolated. In my spare time I gravitate towards food movies, comedy and exploring London’s history. I offload with good friends in oak timbered pubs and walk the family dog.

To finish, I’ll share a video that inspired me to think about my own HappyList:

What’s on your HappyList? by zefrank. A part of me will always love this guy.
Categories
Community advice Self development

Self care strategies that actually work

What’s the best way to help other people?

The answer: looking after yourself.

Really? How is looking after yourself a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people?

If you work for a charity that might sound counter-productive. Surely your focus should be on the cause, the people in need, the people you support. Putting time into focusing on your own needs can feel distinctly uncomfortable, wrong somehow.

You’re probably under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed and trying to meet an increasingly endless wave of need. The challenges could include service users in distress, complex moderation issues, last-minute requests for case studies, problems that apparently only you can solve, and that regular ‘ping’ of emails on the work mobile phone.

Self care? 5 minutes of yoga, a smoothie and a smug self-help quote won’t cut it.

smoothie being poured away. image from unsplash

Ten self-care strategies 

Even with a low budget and limited resources, here are ten effective and helpful self-care strategies that work well for me. They can help motivate you, empower you, and keep you safe if you’re an online community manager at a charity.

1.Be clear about your remit

Doing this will help you to know what you should focus on, and what you should say no to. This can prevent feeling like you have to be all things to all people at all times, which leads to burnout.

Define remits around time by agreeing expected work hours and the type of issue that justifies attention out of hours.

Define remits around requests by agreeing the types of requests that people can make, and how you handle them. Don’t give any external (or internal) person a carte blanche to post requests without your involvement – that way lies chaos!

Define remits around moderation by being clear what you allow, what you don’t and why. This will set your culture and ensure everyone knows what is expected (more on that another time).

2. Talk to your Helpline team

If you’re regularly in contact with people who are emotionally distressed or experiencing really difficult times, this can quickly have a big impact on your own emotional wellbeing. If you have a Helpline team, speak to them about how they handle these feelings and the tools they have in place to help them support their callers.

In my experience, online community professionals for charities should learn empathic communication techniques used by Helplines, and apply them to their processes for handling moderation, complaints and other enquiries. Empathy and community go hand in hand.

3. Set a clear debrief and escalation process

Make sure you plan ahead and know how you will handle issues. This is a great way to retain control when unexpected and urgent things happen. You’ll feel calmer and reassured when you follow your own agreed process.

This should cover:

How you respond to reputational issues – from identifying a complaint to effectively resolving or escalating.

Getting the right skills and process for safeguarding users who may be at risk of harm or abuse. This is particularly important for charities and will help you to know you’ve done all you can to help users in the greatest need.

Agreeing a consistent moderation process that will help you to be confident in handling a wide range of issues.

The other important part of this is the debrief. Do you have someone to check in with after handling a difficult situation? Find someone to support you and help you to talk things through.

4. Look out for triggers

We all have things that upset us, make us angry or unsettled.

Trauma triggers can happen at any time. This could be a series of threads about losing a parent, a news story about sexual harassment, or a user being sexually abused.

Learning to recognise your own emotional response is important. Watch out for things that keep returning to your mind, or make you lose your calm.

It’s helpful to develop your own techniques for keeping one step removed from these issues. Empathic communication and reflective practice can help you to develop good techniques that enable you to offer support and keep you at a safe distance.

This will help to guard against burnout, or vicarious trauma.

5. Log and track positive feedback – why you do what you do

Appreciation matters (see previous blog). On a tough day when you’re facing budget cuts, crazy deadlines, and a wave of issues it can be easy to wonder why you bother.

Put a little time aside each week to log positive feedback – from simple thank yous to the detailed stories that help show the tangible impact your community has.

Invite others in your team or in your organisation to keep watch for feedback.

If you have more time, share this feedback in your newsletters (anonymising details) or share with your internal contacts.

In community we spend so much time doing the job we don’t shout enough about the great value of our work!

Thank you note and a cup of coffee. Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

To be continued…

This is part one of a two part blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part two]