Categories
Community advice community care Community operation Self care

No man is an island – how to create a culture of community care (and look after yourself)

Community care matters, because no man is an island and communities are about relationships, trust, and mutual value. But how do you start to create and foster a culture of care in your community?

The concept of community care has been gaining traction recently (including a LinkedIn event on community care, expertly facilitated by Rosie Sherry). In this blog I’ll explain what this important work looks like in practice, and how to foster community care in a way that is healthy and effective.

a chain of toy monkeys that are connected by their long arms. monkeys are yellow, blue and red and can be seen in daylight against a blue sky with a few white clouds
Community isn’t about me, it’s about we.

Why community care matters

Why does care involve community? Because even self care shouldn’t take place entirely in isolation. No man is an island*.

People need connection, companionship, and compassion. They need to feel heard, solve problems, and get answers. That’s why people form tribes, join communities, or create social media profiles. Good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life (according to research).

What community care looks like

What does community care mean in practice?

The first step in building communities is to not only bring people together, but create an environment where they want to stay together. Communities aren’t just places we go (like a pub or a shopping mall), but places we return to, around a topic of shared interest. They’re places where we give and receive, ask and answer, or talk and feel heard.

Community care happens when we create spaces where people feel they are in a healthy and supportive environment. This will show up differently depending on context (a professional community of practice versus a personal community of circumstance).

We can identify a healthy and supportive environment by how people feel and how they behave. For example, people feel that they are accepted for who they are, they feel able to express themselves (without toxicity or harm), or they have received helpful advice or practical support from others.

Community care happens in a healthy, supportive culture
Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Navigating the risks of openness

When we build healthy and supportive communities, where people express support and care for one another, we will see more openness, and an increase in self-expression.

But there are risks that come with this culture of openness. People may share difficult things, including painful or personal information. This could include coming to the community for support in times of personal need or crisis.

Community professionals are helpful people and our roles are about bringing people together and supporting them. We’ll want to do what we can to help our communities.

But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely responsible for them, or for fixing every situation they face. There’s a middle ground to navigate where we offer ENOUGH care and support in the right way, AND know when to signpost or step back.

woman walking along a line in the road
The middle ground of enough (not too little or too much) support
feels like walking a fine line...

Being intentional about community care

As we grow our communities, we need to be intentional about how and why we care for others. This means that we take time to think about how the community might show support or care, and what it looks like to provide the appropriate amount of care and support.

Tools like a playbook or manual, and tactics like empowering community members can help to create and reinforce a healthy and supportive culture. We could schedule in time to show care for our communities as part of our routines.

But we must also look after ourselves, so we have the energy and focus to do the work of bringing people together. Self care is a key part of how we consistently show up in our roles, and how we can stay effective for the long term by preventing burnout.

an ipad screen shows a graphic that says 'mental health matters' in white text with a red background and pink wavy lines. The ipad is on a white duvet cover that has yellow and red butterflies
Self care helps us to look after our communities effectively

The skills involved in community care

Caring for other people is a skillset in itself. This can involve learning about empathic communication, managing emotional labour, or setting healthy boundaries.

This work can take years to learn in its entirety (I know from experience!), but there are techniques and strategies that any community professional can learn in just a couple of hours. This can include how to listen to your community, how to handle issues safely, and how to use empathy.

Want to learn more?

Would you be interested in learning more about how to care for your community, and care for yourself at the same time?

Good Community exists to help all community professionals to thrive (not just in my specialist areas of emotional support and health). I’m keen to determine the topics that would best help you to bring people together effectively, ethically and safely.

Let me know what you’d like to learn about community care and self care by leaving a comment below, or contacting me.

*No man is an island is a famous line written by 17th century poet called John Donne, and Hemingway pinched ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ from him too. My English Literature degree comes in useful now and again…

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.