community thoughts

Deeply Understanding Others

Originally written and published for my monthly newsletter.

The conversations I remember from all of elementary and high school on empathy was the difference between “empathy” and “sympathy”. There was nothing to do with how to be empathetic, the importance of understanding other people, collaborating with them, living with them, leading through life building meaningful relationships…. all things I think that are far more important than the semantics between two words. 

When we do talk about developing empathy, or it’s importance – it’s usually in a situational context. Can you understand how someone feels or thinks through x situation? 

But unlocking how someone experiences the world and wants to experience it is where true understanding lays. 

When you can deeply understand the way in which people experience life, and want to experience life, there is rarely need for situational empathy – you get that person. And it forever changes your relationship and ability to truly connect with them.

How do you start to deeply understand people?

  • Seek understanding.
  • Try to really map out the way they view and understand the world, how the inputs of the world turn into outputs of thoughts in their mind, and how they want to live through experiences.
  • Choose listening over hearing.
  • Establish a truth-seeking environment. Don’t doubt the validity of people’s truth if they’ve promised to be honest with you. 
  • Stop interpreting what other people say in terms of your own models. You’re trying to figure it out through *their* models of the world.
  • Cross check your understanding of their explanations. Where are the nuances? Those are important. Dive into those.

Would you add anything else?

books community

People Powered

Similar to self-help books, I think people that read books on management, business, and strategy are trying to find the answer to their problems. What they soon will realize is that there isn’t one. The problems can’t be niche-ly defined enough for there to be a solution in the form of a cookie-cutter book.

Instead, what great books, philosophers, and thoughtleaders offer are frameworks: methods to help you problem-solve, models and systems to help you define the problem, or create a strategy.

And that’s what Jono Bacon does in People Powered: the book provides frameworks, not answers. In its essence it promotes practicality, being intentional, and thoughtful about building a strategy for community. I loved it.

It’s a handful of a book to read, with many lists and ways to build community. My brain likes to transform multi-step systems like these into maps, so I’ve created a flow chat of Bacon’s Method to remind myself of the methods/strategies he’s outlined in the book:

Click here to view an easily zoom-able and more interactive version.

Instead of diving deep into these strategies, this blog post is to share some of my main takeaways from this book. If you’re interested in diving deeper into The Bacon Method, I’d suggest you read People Powered! If you’ve already read it, I hope the flow chart is a good place to look back at for a quick reminder!

Great community-building requires strategy

Duh. Kinda.

It’s easy for community managers to think building community is done by setting up a communication system (between org <> community, along with community<>community) and throwing around a series of events. Although the two are important, if not intentionally thought-out, it can result in a messy, weakly bound community.

Being intentional, and thinking via first principles is crucial to being a good community manager/director.

To build a community, you need to understand people

One of the things I’ve reveled over the past year is the fact that people are behind everything: they build companies, buildings, governments, communities…everything both directly and indirectly.

If you’re going to build a community, you might as well understand how humans think and interact with each other. What are our shared drivers? motivations? fears? How have we evolutionarily developed to behave in certain ways?

Knowing these things can be a gamechanger in the way you develop strategy, specifically for engagement and incentives.

You should also understand them personally

When your community is growing (or is already large-scaled when you enter it), it can be easy to think everything should be automated.

But I don’t think scalable = automated. It can often be that way, but it doesn’t always have to be.

One of the things Jono mentions that could be underrated is the power of personally connecting with your community members. Specifically Core members of your community. How you choose those members to receive a personal interaction (and when) can be something you automate, but the interaction itself should be personal at times.

People value the community specifically because of people, not mass-automated interactions. Even when it comes from the org. facilitating/hosting the community.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

(- Leonardo da Vinci, and one of the header titles in Jono’s book).

This is one of my most now-noticeable pain and growth points. There can be so many ideas: ways you can engage people, types of rewards and incentives to build, the list goes on. Creating an exhaustive list of these ideas/strategies might be important to know what your options are, but it doesn’t mean you have to do all of them.

In fact, it’s probably better to do fewer things really well, than more things mediocrely.

Strategy doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be consistent.

– Jono Bacon

I’m currently building community for TKS (The Knowledge Society). I dropped out of university to do this because I’m extremely mission-driven. Learning and connecting with other people is a super-power, so if you know AWESOME community builders, please connect us!

I write blog posts because they help me remember things better. And sometimes, they help other people too, which actually becomes the best part. Let me know what you thought of this or the book in the discussion thread below 🙂