Calling In for Community Managers: The Call In Conversation

Previously on Calling in for Community Managers: When to Call In

If you joined me for Calling in for Community Managers: When to Call In, you’ll have learned that when something unexpected happens in the community I manage, I like to call people in. And I want you to add calling in to your community management toolkit too! Calling in isn’t the end all solution for all community woes, though, so in When to Call In, I included a number of questions to help you determine whether calling in is a strong approach.  

So today, let’s talk about how to have a call in conversation. When I first started having these, I was really nervous, because it felt like I was going into a conversation to tell someone that they’ve done something wrong — and that’s uncomfortable to do! A shift to my mindset around these conversations made me feel more confident and empowered to have these conversations. That shift was to focus on the behavior and possible growth potential. 

I love this quote from Maisha Johnson, as it really captures the spirit and goal of calling in: 

“Addressing harmful behavior is important, but so is understanding that everyone is on a different step of their journey, so we all make mistakes.”

Maisha Johnson

As I shared previously, the highest priority of any community organizer is the care and wellbeing of community members. If someone has been hurt, we can help by addressing that harmful behavior. The care and wellbeing of community members extends to those we’re calling in. That they’ve made a mistake along their journey can be an amazing learning opportunity if we help them see and address that harmful behavior. 

If you’ve decided to call a community member in, here are some tips for having the conversation.

Clarify harmful behavior with the impacted community member. Before you initiate a call in conversation, speak with the community member who was subject to the behavior. Even if we have deep experience with call in conversations, every community member’s experience is going to be different – what you think you’re addressing may not match what that community member wants you to address! Getting clarity in advance (and making sure that they want this conversation to happen!) helps you be fully prepared for the conversation ahead.

Set the context for the conversation early. When you reach out to the person who demonstrated unacceptable behavior, be upfront and honest about why you are reaching out, focusing on the harmful behavior itself. Remember to invite them to have a conversation with you, or ask if it’s a good time to talk. 

In the WordPress community, we do our best to maintain as friendly and non-judgemental a tone as possible. I particularly like this approach, as it sets a more collaborative environment immediately. 

Focus on the behavior and impact. Sometimes calling out fails because a whole person is being called out for one behavior. This tends to result in that person going on the offensive, declaring that they are not a bad person. As a result, that one behavior is entirely forgotten. 

When calling in, and especially if you’ve determined that this is a learning opportunity for the community member, focusing on the unacceptable behavior and resulting impact to others, instead of them as a whole person, is key for calling in. 

When discussing the behavior, explain why it was harmful or unacceptable. There’s a chance that they don’t understand, know why it’s offensive, or didn’t even recognize their harmful behavior. Take the time to share how this behavior hurts other people.

Define an expectation together. Sometimes it’s crystal clear that the expectation is that the behavior never happens again. Other times, it can be more nuanced as to what expected behavior looks like after the calling in conversation is over. The goal is to come to a shared and clear understanding of what good citizenship in the community means. After discussing the behavior and impact, it can be really empowering to discuss what expected behavior looks like, especially if your community has more specific guidelines.

Invite conversation. At this point in the conversation, it is very likely that the community member you’re calling in will have some kind of response. For the majority of my calling in conversations, it’s usually a mixture of understanding and mortification (“I had no idea!”, “Oh no I’m so sorry!”, “I didn’t even think about that!”, “I feel terrible that I made them feel this way, I swear it was an accident!”, “I’ll do better next time!” are all common responses). That’s normal, and an excellent sign that calling in is working. 

When that happens, I like to remind community members that they are human and will make mistakes, and that they can make a difference by choosing to behaving differently next time. I like to thank them for listening, and for being receptive, because that helps our community be stronger in the long run. Last, and most importantly, I ask if they have any questions, because that helps create safer spaces that encourage learning and personal growth. Sometimes, it’s helpful to identify some next steps with the community member, like reading articles or speaking with other community members, so that growth extends even further.

Sometimes after a calling in conversation, the community member may want to issue an apology. If this happens, I like to check with the impacted member to see if this is wanted to begin with. 

Follow up with the impacted community member. After the calling in conversation, I like to follow up with the impacted community member to give them a recap of how the conversation went. I’ll always check with them to see how they are feeling at that point, and to give them any additional support they need to feel safer in our community. Examples of this could include finding them a trusted buddy for an upcoming event, or helping them understand who else they might be able to go to for help if they need it. 

Using calling in conversations as a way to build stronger understanding and alignment in your community is such a gift. It’s not easy, but the work of addressing hurt and helping people see where they have caused hurt is integral towards building a safer community. 

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Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke on Unsplash

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