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What mindset and behaviors are needed for a healthy community?

I've been part of this wonderful community for over 10 years, where the majority of my blogs are about the people who make this community wonderful. I was recently reminded by Nigel James' blog "Selah - take a chill pill and reflect." that software developers can't ignore having a few more "tools" in their kit to be successful:

  1. Kindness
  2. Inclusivity
  3. Thoughtfulness
  4. Empathy

I'd like to open this up further to all community members. What mindset, behaviours or soft skills are important to have for a healthy community - whether your goal is to build relationships, or to gain or share knowledge?

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10 Answers

  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 07:13 AM

    I'm not sure if it's just a community thing, but two things I always try to do are to be honest (there's nothing wrong with saying I don't know, but still helping someone figure out what they need), and to give/share credit with others. I think those are both valid for online communities, and for personal interactions.

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    • Thank you Myles Fenlon! I really like these traits of honesty and giving/sharing credit. I can see how these 2 traits are symbiotic in online communities, where proper recognition of where ideas or information comes from is very important. Giving credit and showing gratitude to others is a great demonstration of inclusiveness.

  • Posted on Jul 22, 2018 at 08:51 AM

    I agree with almost everything said here, but I think we have to be more precise about what we mean by "inclusiveness", "empathy" and the like.

    First, what's clearly most important are the instigators, creators, people who share, who have new/creative ideas (even if wrong). These people generate excitement and discussion and (dare I say) engagement, fun. Without them, there is no real community.

    As for mindset, here are my favorites:

    • Compassion (as opposed to "empathy, as described in Paul Bloom' work): We need to understand what others are going through, even if we don't feel it ourselves -- yes, I do not empathize with those "stupid users" but I can see why they are having problems and will work to help them. In other words, we need to appreciate others point of view -- literally, how things look to them -- even if we don't feel their pain and even disagree with their conclusions. See this Ted lecture by Jonathan Haidt, which has made me appreciate better why people are conservative politically even if I loathe the current manifestation of that philosophy.
    • Honesty: We need to accept our own biases and mistakes, as well as the truth from others.
    • Inclusiveness: And I mean this for its own sake, not just because diversity creates better solutions and better results, but because reaching out to people -- often marginalized people, people outside our "tribe" -- is the right thing to do, and builds a more welcoming community for everybody.
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  • Posted on Jul 19, 2018 at 11:11 PM

    Good question! I'd say empathy is the biggest one, as it leads to the others. A few additions:

    • courage
    • altruism
    • patience
    • gratitude

    Cheers,

    Jamie

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  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 05:00 AM

    Perhaps being mindful of Postel's law can be very useful in this context. It's also known as the robustness principle and is a guideline for developing software:

    Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others

    This was originally related to integration - we might call Jon Postel one of the father's of the Internet, he wrote an early specification of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), where the guideline could also be written "Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept".

    I think this applies to interactions between people too, and can make for a healthy community.

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    • Thank you for sharing this DJ! When I first read Postel's law I thought it counter to altruism (give generously and don't expect anything in return). However your explantion gives me an even better understanding of the differences in Postel's law and how it can be applied - eg. "assuming best intentions" from other members can be a way of being "liberal" in receiving input from others. Nice!

  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 07:14 PM

    Empathy as a main course, and Humor for dessert (my personal witty humor is often more of the sarcasm variety).

    Far too often in social media outlets these days, trolling and vicious behavior seems to be the norm, but unless you are a person who thrives on conflict, it is likely an experience that will make you less motivated to collaborate in 'community', or it will alienate you all together. We have to find the happy balance between order and chaos, where we maintain professionalism and quality content but not in such a militant manner that it prohibits the less experienced folks the chance to grow and develop. Moderating can be like parenting, where I don't necessarily like to punish or penalize my kids, but sometimes it is required in order to prepare them for the real world or to curb poor behavior or actions.

    While this community primarily functions around SAP and related technologies, the human factor is one that I greatly value, and that comes from interacting with SAP colleagues, customers, and partners here in the community websites and at in-person events (some of whom I've had the privilege to meet in person, and others I hope to in the future). The blurry line between acquaintances and friends that we see on Facebook can exist very much the same here in the SAP Community, but enjoying a community meal together (with a menu featuring Empathy and Humor of course) should provide us with the nourishment we need to go about our day.

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  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 10:05 PM

    Agree with much of what others are saying:

    Listening and communicating effectively.

    Don't make a permanent decision on incomplete information/temporary situations.

    Empathy

    A shared sense of accountability.

    A continuous desire to learn. The correct answer may be something none of us has heard of - be open to new ideas.

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    • This is so critical in any conversation: "consider the other person's point of view even if it differs from one's own are all helpful"

      Even just getting up and taking a walk can help. For me, it's often really just about putting space between my reaction to someone's comments and actually responding to them. It has to be a conscious effort (for me, personally), as it's not something that comes naturally to me. My inclination is to respond quickly and intuitively - which doesn't always serve me. However, self-awareness is the best way to overcome these kinds of shortcomings! Thanks for your thoughts :)

  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 04:14 PM

    Empathy

    Patience

    Communications skills

    In my 25+ years in IT I have always been bothered by the "stupid user" moniker. I have always encouraged my peers, and now my staff, to be more empathetic and patient, and to get a hold of their frustrations before they emote. Strong communication skills goes a long way to set expectation, reduce assumptions, and strengthen relationships. I can teach anyone the technical skills but it is these soft skills that I look for in a candidate.

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    • I was really surprised to learn that StackOverflow users used to actively discourage common courtesies like "please" and "thank you" because they were considered too verbose and basically as verbal litter. These are the things that connect us as humans and reward altruism. They are critical to making others feel valued for their time and effort -- a key emotion we have to encourage in community. (Thankfully, SO has acknowledged this issue and is also working to improve their situation!)

  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 05:22 PM

    For me a good community is somewhere where:

    Many different people come together around a common interest. They may do it for fun, business, or just to share ideas. It's somewhere a person can feel safe asking a question. Where they can feel empowered to answer questions and not worry about being wrong. Where someone else can express a different way to do things. It is somewhere fun.

    So behaviors:

    1. Empathy - this is huge. I like seeing positive things. Or criticisms in a learning way. What I say could matter. Remember when I first joined the community and how people supported me.
    2. Be supportive.
    3. Inclusive. See Jamie's blog if you haven't already. She has some "doing" items. A great community has a variety of opinions.
    4. Participate when you feel comfortable. Ever opinion is important.
    5. Bulling is not tolerated.
    6. Encourage others.

    Another way to ask the same question - what would make you leave a community?

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  • Posted on Jul 20, 2018 at 11:58 AM

    Good question and initial list!

    Like Jamie, I'd include altruism in the list as you'll always need people in any community who don't just think about their own advantage but for example share their knowledge freely with others. It also helps to not set your own expectations too high which is something I mentioned in a recent blog post where I stated "When composing my questions, I’m obviously hoping to get some answers but I also realise that I’m not entitled to get one, let alone quickly."

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    • Thank you Bärbel Winkler! We need to thank Nigel James for starting this fantastic list.

      Btw, excellent post with very instructive tips on how to ask questions that will get answers in our community! Altruism and proper expectation setting are truly important. For those who share their knowledge in this community, I can see how altruism and expectations are connected - they don't expect anything back (yet good karma will eventually find them). And for those who seek knowledge, understanding how online communities function and being open to accepting what/whether knowledge is shared with them will help relieve anxieties and benefit in return.

      Thank you for being such a great example and ambassador of altruism! Your thoughtful approach to knowledge sharing is undoubtedly making an impact to those who are benefiting from your contributions. :)

  • Posted on Jul 21, 2018 at 01:02 PM

    This thread and the comments posted thus far reminded me of "The Life Cycle of A List" which was initially posted to an email list in 1995. Having been involved with moderating some groups over the last couple of years, at least some of the bullet items still hold true as far as I can tell. They may not be all completely applicable to a community like ours, but all in all I'd say it's an "oldie but goldie":

    Web-Archive of "The Life Cycle of A List"

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