As a community manager, your job is to build up the community, not yourself. You succeed if, and only if, the community succeeds. I've found that being humble and gracious is a lost art in today's self-promotion-is-the-way-to-get-ahead world but can be key to building a healthy and supportive community. These are some of the things I've learned and put into practice as best as I can.
Accepting praise has been one of my biggest personal struggles. Long ago, I decided that in order to make "the big bucks" I was going to have to become a people manager and work my way up the corporate ladder. I worked for a very wise woman and she told me that in order to be effective I was going to have to dress differently to achieve that goal. I was going to have to wear a dress shirt, slacks and dress shoes, shave every day, wear cologne, etc. When I did that, she assured me that people would act differently toward me. And she was right! One day a coworker of mine, another manager, stopped me in the hallway outside of my boss' office. He told me that I looked much nicer these days and it was "much better than those old band t-shirts you used to wear". I started to argue with him because I never wore band t-shirts! From inside her office my astute boss said, "Lee? Say 'thank you'."
When she said that, I realized what I had been doing wrong. Here is someone taking the time to give me a compliment and I'm arguing with them! This pattern is deeply ingrained for some people whether it is confronting them like I did or declining the praise. How many times have you heard someone say, "No, that wasn't a big deal," or "It was nothing really," or "I didn't do that much," when someone else is trying to give them a compliment? Many people who follow this pattern seem to think that it is being humble when really it is akin to fishing for compliments because the most common reaction is to heap more praise on the recipient in an effort to "convince" them. True humility is accepting what one is given and appreciating it for what it is. Truly appreciating it, not like you would the fourteenth pair of Christmas socks from your grandmother.
Even worse, the pattern of not accepting praise can be damaging to a community. It subtly trains people to not appreciate others. This can spiral downwards and create a culture of negativity. When people are taught not to express positive thoughts toward each other, all that one is able to express is the negative. This is exactly the opposite of the direction you want your community to go in order to be successful.
So, when someone takes the time to show their appreciation:
There is an important distinction between "sharing" praise and "redirecting" it. Redirecting praise is saying something like, "No, not me, I didn't do anything. Joe is the one that you should be thanking." Sharing praise is saying something along the lines of, "Thank you very much, the team loves to hear what exciting things people are doing with our work." Redirecting is an implicit rejection of someone's appreciation and then puts the onus back on them to go find the "correct" target for their compliment. You're essentially making them do more work when they're trying to do something nice. Sharing praise accepts the compliment and amplifies it by spreading the ❤ around.
By showing appreciation for people taking the time to give compliments, you're encouraging them to do it more.
This should create a more positive and giving community.
There is a lot of debate around whether one should use "you're welcome" or "no problem" in response to someone saying thanks. Even semantically, the phrases are complex and layered with undertones. For most people, either phrase will be perfectly acceptable. In community management, saying "you're welcome" goes that one extra mile that using "no problem" does not. Not only is it saying that they were welcome to your assistance, whatever form that took, it also implies that they are welcome to be there, welcomed into the community. The more positivity you can create, the better off your community will be.
You will make mistakes. Your team will make mistakes. Everyone does. It is important to own up to those mistakes quickly and sincerely. Even when the problem was not caused by you, being decisive and taking responsibility can make or break a community.
A problem is that, at least in the United States, the most common apologetic phrase, "I'm sorry", has taken on an implicit admission of guilt in the last few decades. Canada even went so far as to make a law stating that apologizing is not an admission of guilt. When friends try to express sympathy for another, you'll often hear something like this:
Person A: I'm sorry about that
Person B: Why? It wasn't your fault
So when acknowledging a transgression, using the phrase "I apologize" is preferable, whether you are the guilty party or not. It is just clearer what you mean to say.
These are some of the lessons that I've learned that I feel have made my communities more positive, welcoming, and supportive. What techniques do you use to model positive and supportive behaviors for your community members? Or what things have you seen community leaders do that you admire? Let us know in the comments 🙇♂️
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