by Paxus Calta
In many ways starting a community is like going into a new romantic relationship. There are as many styles and techniques as there are individuals, but there are practices and agreements which can help increase your chances of success. In a romantic relationship, if you do it right you create a honeymoon. If you do it starting a community, you create this experience we don’t have a single word for, but feels something like, “Wow. Together we really are greater than we are individually. I was right to put all this work in.”
And like a deep rich romantic honeymoon, there is a tremendous premium to being clear and self reflective going in. Communities are basically personalities plus agreements. On the personality side, we have a little bit of flexibility with many people (if they are happy they are more generous, if their needs are getting met they are more likely to go the extra mile). On the agreements side we have huge scope, we can design whatever types of agreements will serve us and then edit them as needed. When you are designing your communities communication culture there are several things to include:
Commit to deep listening: I am guessing 75% of relationship problems could be solved if people really focused and listened to each other. This means not getting stuck by our past scars and holding on to a compassionate mindset. There is an art to deep listening and it is not enough to just sit quietly, committing to learning this skill and applying it regularly may be the longest lever you have for building community.
Commit to self reflection and critique: If there is a problem in the romance or the community, you have a part in it. It might be an apathetic part, where you are not willing to help someone who you see struggling. In an intentional relationship we are all committed to fostering the well-being of ourselves and the others we are dancing with. Part of this has to be admitting our faults and a willingness to work on them.
Commit to not stewing: If you are upset with me, come tell me. Don’t talk to someone else who might be struggling with me and tell them the thing that i did which frustrated you. This is an anti-gossip norm thru fast remedial action.
The trick is how do we keep these types of agreements? Getting together, face to face, creating a safe and comfortable environment and talking or doing other types of trust building exercises together. My personal favorite flavor of this is transparency tools, but other techniques include clearnesses, Nonviolent Communication, and Co-Counseling.
Different tool sets fit different cultures. In the Point A work we advocate for the transparency tools, because most of them are “soft tools”, meaning that an amateur using them is unlikely to hurt themselves or others in the group. This contrasts some more daring and powerful communication tools (ZEGG Forum jumps to mind) which can do amazing work, but if operated by people who are not yet experienced or are clumsy can result in people getting emotionally or psychologically banged up. When considering a set of communication tools it is often wise to look for versatile tools like the Clearness technique used at Acorn, which serves both as a regular universal check in and connection building device and something to be used when there is an acute problem with a member.
You can’t make a honeymoon last forever, but good communication practices will provide resilience and functionality to your community and your relationships.