What to do when you are called in

So far, I’ve been sharing tips on calling in for community managers, such as what calling in is, when it’s a great option, and how to have the call-in conversation. I want to finish this series with a post about what to do if you have been called in, whether you are a community manager or not. 

If you’ve been subjected to oppressive or problematic behavior, you know how painful it can be. Worse yet, it can be intimidating to report that kind of behavior, especially if you don’t have privileges your oppressor has. A lot of problematic behavior goes unreported, resulting in unsafe spaces that prevent everyone from participating.

If you’re doing the calling in, it’s difficult emotional labor. You’re investing time and energy into hard, complex conversations, and working towards a specific goal. You may be empathizing with people who are deeply hurt. There’s a chance that the call-in conversation doesn’t go as planned, and you’re subject to further problematic behavior. 

At the same time, being called in can also bring up a huge range of emotions. You may feel mortified that you hurt someone else. You may be confused because you didn’t even realize that something happened. You may be angry because your intent was misconstrued. 

If you are being called in, I need you to take a deep breath and lean in to how uncomfortable it is. Because if you’re not willing to sit in this uncomfortable space with everyone else who is willing to be here, you’re not going to learn anything. Worse yet, you may perpetuate additional hurt. 

A good call-in conversation is a conversation focused on the oppressive or problematic behavior, not an attack. If you’re getting called in, you get to participate in the conversation too. So if you do feel that this calling in wasn’t warranted, you’ll have a chance to explore that. 

When you get called in (and maybe out), try for the following instead. 

Recognize and Appreciate

If you’ve been called in or out, those who you’ve offended have a right to be angry. They are not obligated to educate you. The burden of explanation shouldn’t be on someone who is already feeling wronged. This is often why an ally can help in initiating the call-in conversation. 

A good call-in conversation is an act of kindness. You are not the only one feeling impacted by this call-in! But if someone who feels hurt by your actions chooses to call you in, they’ve already acknowledged that you have the capacity to change and avoid doing that again. 

That’s a huge gift. And if you gave a gift to someone who hurt you, how would you want to be treated? 

With that in mind, I really encourage you to find appreciation for a good call-in. For all that it is uncomfortable, someone is doing you a huge kindness. At some point during this conversation, I hope you thank them for it. 


I don’t know about you, but I only initiate uncomfortable conversations if I have good reason to. If someone is taking the time to call you in or out, it is likely that they are doing so because they have important information you need to hear. 

When someone tells you that your behavior or actions were problematic, it is natural to feel defensive. It’s natural to feel that you’re being called a bad person. After all, that’s frequently what we see with calling out on social media. Regardless of if you are being called in or out, really listen. What is being brought up: is it you, or is it something you said or did? If the conversation focuses on the behavior that caused hurt, that’s not a personal attack. That’s how your actions impacted someone else, not a reflection on your whole self. 

A call-in conversation is an opportunity for you to listen and learn.


One common defense I see and hear regularly is:

“Well, I didn’t intend for that to happen.”

If you’ve used this response in the past, I’m going to kindly tell you right now that this is not an apology. In fact, you’re focusing on your own defenses and ignoring the hurt you’ve caused. 

A fantastic analogy of this is if you accidentally step on someone’s foot. Unless you went out of your way to step on their foot, you didn’t intend to do so. It was an honest accident! However, that person’s foot is going to still feel your step. When we step on someone’s foot, even if it is an accident, we readily apologize. Some of us might even ask if the other person is ok.   

The same thing applies here. You may have had the best intent ever, but your actions impacted someone in a harmful way. Declaring that you didn’t intend for that to happen doesn’t negate that impact, even if you don’t understand how it happened. 

So, if you’ve hurt someone, even if you didn’t mean to, acknowledge it. Like, really acknowledge it. Own the fact that you’ve caused hurt to a fellow human being — everyone, including you, will be better for it. Acknowledging the harm is an important step towards learning and growing. 

Commit to Learning

In previous posts for community managers and allies, I encouraged inviting conversation as part of the call-in conversation. Depending on the person doing the calling in, they may not have the emotional bandwidth to fully help you understand the problematic behavior. Remember — if you’ve offended someone, they have no obligation to educate you. Before you start asking a lot of questions, check to see if they would be willing to talk further. 

Even if the person calling you in is willing to and has a full conversation with you, and you learn a lot in that moment, don’t stop the momentum! There are a lot of incredible resources to help you keep learning. Seeking out that type of education is an amazing way to keep growing and improving.

I included this quote from Maisha Johnson in a previous post, and think it worth reiterating here.

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

Take another deep breath. If you’ve been called in (or out), it’s going to be ok. You are a human, and you made a mistake. It is 120% likely that we will all continue to make mistakes. But we can make a difference by choosing to be receptive over defensive, by choosing to be kind to ourselves, and by choosing to grow and improve.  

More illuminating info

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash