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3 Common Challenges Community Builders Face and How to Overcome Them

9 minute read

November 3, 2021

Jono Bacon joined us at Super Forum 2021 and presented a survival guide for community managers who are facing common challenges. At one point or another, we'll all face stress, crisis management, and conflict resolution, and the best way to handle them is to be prepared. 

Building and managing communities is a very fulfilling – and generally fun – job. However, just as it is with any job, there is a dark side when it comes to building communities. According to long-time community builder Jono Bacon there are three general not-so-great areas anybody working in community may have to deal with: 

  • Crisis management 

  • Conflict resolution

  • Stress and burnout 

Each issue has its own nuances and best practices to manage. In this article we cover each topic and share some of Jono’s tips to arm you with the tools you need to take on these challenges if they come your way.  

Make sure you watch Jono's session here: 

Crisis  

Though what exactly constitutes a crisis may vary largely between two companies, you could generally define it as something big going wrong. Perhaps you’re a tech company and there’s a large-scale outage. Or, maybe a senior member of your leadership team went on a late-night Twitter rant causing a PR nightmare. 

No matter what caused the crisis, we’re all very familiar with what most companies do next: 

  • Shut off all communication

  • Do their best to cover up the problem

  • Give a vague apology if – or when – they get caught

Though that’s certainly a playbook you could follow, it’s not one Jono would suggest. Instead he offers a different approach that focuses on transparency and humility. Below are the five steps he suggests. 

Stop the rot

No matter what type of crisis you’re facing, there’s always a catalyst. The first step in Jono’s process is to find what that is and isolate it. For example, if you just released a new version of your software that broke a core feature you could do a rollback on the deployment. 

Investigate

In order to properly identify the root issue for the crisis, you need to do an investigation. Jono notes that in a crisis situation it may be tempting to try and get the investigation done as quickly as you can, but that might not actually be the best move. If you go too fast you might miss a key piece of information and end up making the whole process take even longer. 

Look for some small wins 

Have you ever noticed how much better it feels to be stuck in traffic moving 5 mph, than it is to be at a complete standstill? That’s because even though you’re moving slow, there’s still some semblance of progress. The same is true in a crisis situation. Look for small wins you can get done quickly to show progress is being made. Even alleviating a small amount of stress for customers will pay-off in a big way. 

Find a lasting solution

Once you have a thorough understanding of the issue, and have had some small wins, you need to find a long-term fix for the issue. After you figure out what that is, communicate the fix to your audience and let them know how you’re going to avoid similar issues in the future. 

Review and refine 

No matter how well prepared you are, anytime there’s a crisis there will be something you could’ve done better. Instead of seeing that as a complete failure, recognize it for what it really is: an opportunity. Make sure you review all the steps you took and note where you could’ve done better and put processes in place to ensure a better outing the next time something goes sideways.

Conflict Resolution

Anytime you’re working with a group of people there’s bound to be some sort of conflict. Though it’s easy to point fingers, Jono says in his experience 99% of conflicts have no single right or wrong person.  

Though that may be the case, he does mention there are some common reasons for conflict:

  • Unclear expectations - people may have different ideas about workload/ responsibilities which could result in conflict.  

  • Communication issues - with lots of communication happening via text (Slack, email, etc) it can be hard to determine tone, which can lead to misunderstandings. 

  • Uncertainty - people feel insecure and get stressed and anxious about a situation or circumstance.  

  • Power-imbalances - when people aren’t at the same level of power it can sometimes cause conflict.  

  • Culture - people from different backgrounds may have different communication styles/ cultural norms that could be tough to navigate. For example, some people are very direct, which could intimate less-direct people. 

Steps to resolve a conflict

Knowing the different reasons why a conflict may arise is a good starting point for most anyone working in community building. It can even give some insight into steps you could take to help mitigate some potential conflicts.

That said, there’s no way to avoid conflicts completely. With that being the case, it’s important you know the steps to take to facilitate solving a conflict once it’s begun. 

You need a facilitator

An objective middle person can help provide clarity and mediate the conflict. They help remove the emotion from the situation. This can either be someone internally at your company, or a hired professional. 

Understand the issues and the people

In order to get to the bottom of any conflict you need to understand both the issue the people are having and the people themselves. Without both pieces, it’s easy to not fully grasp what’s happening and could hamper your ability to solve the conflict. 

Identify the root causes 

As they say, there’s two sides to every story. Jono suggests setting up individual calls with everyone involved in the conflict and hearing all sides of the story. By doing so you have a richer picture of the issue and can better formulate a solution. 

Propose practical solutions

Once you’ve heard all sides of the story you need to put together a plan to resolve the issue. Your goal is to make sure any solution you offer is practical, easy to follow, and doesn’t overly burden one party.  

Document and maintain

After you’ve proposed your solution, and the involved parties agree, you need to clearly document it. That way there’s a source of truth to refer back to if any further conflict arises. Jono says it’s also good to check in with the involved parties 2-3 times to make sure each is holding up their end of the bargain. 

Stress and Burnout

Stress and burnout are basically two sides of the same coin. If you have chronic negative stress in your life, chances are you’re going to burnout. And as your level of burnout increases, you get even more stressed, and by extension even more burnt out. 

Breaking that cycle can be very difficult to do as it’s sometimes hard to identify when we’re burning out. Though some more scientific sources present 12 phases in burnout, Jono uses a model that focuses on five stages. 

  • Insecurity and proof - in this stage people may be worried about the quality of their work, might feel like they’re letting people down, or have some imposter syndrome. Further, they try to prove to themselves that those feelings are valid by focusing on all the ways they’re inadequate.

  • Working harder - in this stage people start working more to try and overcome their perceived shortcomings. However, that rarely works as spending more time working simply makes people more tired, adds more stress, and generally deepens burnout. 

  • Not taking care of yourself - at this stage people stop exercising, and make poor diet decisions. They feel defeated and don’t have the energy to try and make good choices. Basically, they’re piling on.  

  • Relief and rejection - in this stage people are so tired and worn out that they just want some sort of outside relief (drugs, alcohol, etc.) People might also reject their social groups and isolate themselves from others, instead of asking for help or recognizing they’re burning out. 

  • Withdrawal and depression - this is a point where people probably need medical intervention to move forward and get back to a healthy point. They generally will have completely withdrawn from everyone in their life and are probably quite depressed.

Jono does mention that it’s not incredibly common for people to get to the two final stages of burnout as outlined here. That said, all stages of burnout warrant intervention.  

Avoiding burnout 

Once you’re caught in the burnout cycle, it can be very difficult to get out of it. The best thing anyone can really do is take preventative measures to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place, or to mitigate the issue early on if it does happen. 

There are four tactics Jono suggests: 

  • Do an internal check - try and take a step back and see if you’re noticing any of the above behaviors. This could come in the form of self-reflection. Or, if you’re seeing a therapist or counselor, it could be something you explore with them. 

  • Take a breath - When you’re in the throes of burnout the idea of taking a break seems like a horrible idea, but research shows that vacation actually helps improve overall productivity. Also, you don’t have to do anything big. It could be as simple as taking a long bath, or getting out for a walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

  • Check-in with others - a lot of the time it’s easier to recognize behaviors in others, than it is to recognize them in ourselves. If you notice someone is struggling, reach out and offer a helping hand. You could even set up status checks between the two of you to keep honest.  

  • Have a stoic mindset - stoicism is all about separating emotions from a situation. Though it’s much easier said than done, it can be a useful tool to help avoid burnout and realize when you’re slipping into the cycle. If you’re interested to learn more, Jono suggests these books (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Obstacle is The Way, The Daily Stoic).

Stress is a reality of most any job. And though that’s true, it doesn’t have to escalate to full-blown burnout. Take the time to take care of yourself, and be active in resolving any issues when they come up. Last, don’t be too hard on yourself if you do slip into a burnout cycle. Know you can recover and get back to a good place. 

Moving Forward

It’s easy to want to focus only on the bright side of things, but that doesn’t mean the dark side doesn’t exist. And completely ignoring the challenges that come along with a job could do more harm than good. It’s not to say you should be pessimistic, but you do need to be aware. 

By doing so you’re able to recognize patterns and help get through those challenges to prosper even more. If you stay aware, stay humble, and stay persistent when challenges come your way and you’ll be on the path to brighter days. 

Learn more about community building with our free guide!

A Simple 7 Phased Approach To Community Building2

 

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Nuala Cronin

Written by Nuala Cronin

Nuala is the Content Marketing Manager at Vanilla by Higher Logic. She has adored writing since a young age and graduated with a Master's Degree in Publishing and Literature from the National University of Ireland, Galway.

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