Juan M 0:17
Just when you thought you'd found your way out of the zoo, we present you yet another episode, another podcast version of the Unicorn Meta Zoo. We are once again here, going to be discussing all things community management. I am joined by two of the best people that I work with, Jon Ericson and Abby T. How are you all today?
Abby T 0:36
Doing great. I'm telling everyone else that you said that about us. I guess they'll (unintelligible) it anyway.
Juan M 0:39
It's on record.
Jon Ericson 0:43
I'm doing great. I can't wait to talk about all things community management. Can you tell me what my job is? Because
Juan M 0:51
When I, when I say all things community management, I meant that in a, not in the broad spectrum that that is, because we don't have the time to discuss all things community management. However, we do want to speak on a sliver of community management. So let's focus on that. And today's topic is going to be working with difficult users. So as you all know, having communities involves having people, right, it's like that saying where the person says, You know, I love mankind, or I love humanity, it's individuals that I can't stand. So that's what we're going to be talking about today. We're going to be -- we're gonna be discussing working with difficult users in the context of community. So let's get started there. Any brief experiences or stories from either of you concerning difficult users?
Jon Ericson 1:34
I was thinking, before we start, I should probably make a disclaimer that, you know, if I've been talking to you recently, it's probably not you that I'm talking about, like, you are probably not that this difficult user, because I've got a big stash of people from years ago who, you know, they don't even listen, they're not going to be here anymore, because they were so difficult.
Abby T 1:56
Because you banned them from the site already?
Jon Ericson 1:58
Well. Yeah. Well, I mean, they couldn't be listening. But I guess they're not going to do any more harm, because they're off the site. Right?
Abby T 2:06
Yeah. Well, we'll dig deep into the archives of stories here. So anyone who's currently associating frequently with the community team, you can be sure that we're, we love you. And we're never, we would never accuse you of being a problem user. You know, that's (unintelligible) everywhere. But there's a reverse statute of limitations; you don't get to be mentioned on this podcast, unless your last association was five years ago.
Juan M 2:29
Let's be honest, let's be honest, all of us, at some point, have been difficult users. I mean, if I were to categorize myself, as a difficult user, I would say that growing up, and maybe, you know, maybe even now, I would be, I would have been a difficult user in terms of my family unit, right, with my siblings. I'm sure my parents would have said what a difficult user this person is. And if they would have, if they would have deleted me, then that would have been the end of me. So all of us at some point or another, right, can be labeled as difficult users. But in the context of what we're discussing, we're talking about building community bringing people together, I want to talk about conflict, right? Because that tends to be what, what difficult users bring. And so conflict is a topic we'll discuss. But first, Abby, let me ask you, how would you define a difficult user?
Abby T 3:13
You know, as a community manager, I would say that a difficult user is not necessarily always the same thing as a problem user or is not always necessarily a negative, a negative thing. I can think of in lots of situations, Stack Exchange communities, you know, other communities, I've been a part of, stuff like that, where a difficult user or a difficult member of the community is actually someone who cares very, very deeply about the community and the success of the community, and just maybe has a way of going about it that rubs people the wrong way, or is, you know, a little bit particular. And they just they're they're very specific about the way they want to see things done, or they've conflict with other users. But they both mean really well. So I would, I would, I'm defining it by something that it isn't, I guess, but I'd say that a difficult user doesn't necessarily have to be one that we consider a problem or someone who should we make go away or something just you know, something, they're having difficulty working with the community figuring out how to collaborate to move forward, even though they might care very deeply about the success, or they might not, they might want to see the whole thing burn, too. And that's definitely someone that we would consider a difficult user as well.
Juan M 4:18
I love that. I love that definition that you just gave, I do agree that difficult does not equal negative. Difficult does not equal -- what was the other word you used? -- you said a negative user or a -- oh, the word escaped me! Anyway, the way you put it, I guess we'll have to rewind and find the word, it was so good. I like that. And it's true. So it's someone who is having difficulties, right? Someone who is not, for some reason, is not jiving well with what's going on. And so this, this is where this, this conversation, this topic of conflict comes in. Jon, let me ask you, if you were to give a brief description of what conflict is, what would that be?
Jon Ericson 4:53
Um, I think it's when two people have different goals, or different methods of achieving their goals, and they can't make them work together in a unified way. And there are a lot of potential conflicts all over the place. But actual conflicts only occur when people have to be in the same space and are using the same resources to accomplish our goals. So like, one, you probably don't care that my kids don't always flush the toilet. But I definitely care about that. Because I'm in the same space.
Juan M 5:38
Jon Ericson 5:38
That's a good analogy? Okay.
Juan M 5:41
That's a great, that's a great analogy. And one that's very relatable because I do have kids that I have to talk to about some similar issues. Absolutely. And at that moment, I would say that they're being difficult. The actions are negative, but they're being difficult. Okay. So so we're all familiar with then what conflict is, right? It's, it's, it's a difference of opinion. It's two free wills coming together, clashing together. It's people wanting to, to convince the other side or wanting to make some sort of decision or move forward toward something. And there's opposition, right, there's opposition. So in terms of community, I mean, that's, that's healthy. No, I mean, we can't have everybody just agreeing. Otherwise, you'd be like that old PC game, The Lemmings, right. I mean, there's got to be some sort of opposition. You guys familiar with that game?
Jon Ericson 6:27
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Juan M 6:28
So at what point does conflict or can conflict be productive? And Abby, we'll start with you.
Abby T 6:35
Oh great. I was gonna say who goes first? I drew the short straw. So I think --
Jon Ericson 6:39
No, no, I should go first. Me first.
Abby T 6:43
No, no! Juan said me. Jon, I really respect your opinion. But I think, I think we should listen to what Juan said, and I should go first.
Juan M 6:52
I appreciate that.
Abby T 6:53
Handling, handling their conflict -- what word did you just say? Constructively. Thank you. Oh, my gosh, the words are escaping this podcast. So constructive conflict, I think conflict is, especially in communities like ours, like ours, conflict is almost always constructive in that we almost always learn a little something about either our community or about the site, the engine, the network that it runs on, through seeing what are the places where people are experiencing friction. So I think it should work this way, you think it should work this way, what are we going to do? There's almost always a benefit in that we've learned something about why that happened. And, you know, hopefully, ideally, we can take that information, take those learnings and you know, build something better, either in terms of policy or the way the engine works, or whatever, in the first place. We haven't always been great at kind of learning from conflicts like that in the past. But that's, that's a dream that I have for us. So I think as long as everyone is operating from a place of assuming good intentions, good faith on the part of the other person. So you know, I'm not fighting with you, because I think you're a dingbat who's trying to ruin the site. I'm in conflict with you, because we both really care deeply, but have different ideas about what could be useful here. I think that is a productive conflict. As soon as you get to a point where, you know, you've you've flipped the bozo bit on the other party in the conflict, or you think, you know, this is an evil person, and I have to vanquish them, to trounce them, vanquish this evil, then it gets a little less, less productive, less constructive there. But I think it can be really, really healthy for a community.
Juan M 8:23
Awesome, Jon, what are your thoughts?
Jon Ericson 8:24
Yeah, I agree, I, I think we see a lot of conflict, that's born out of frustration, and that tends to be a little bit less productive. You know, I know that we have as a company, we have done, probably less, I mean, definitely less than we could have and should have for users. And so that can be a very frustrating thing. And I definitely see that sort of interaction on the site where people are just unhappy, with maybe me generally, or with our company, or that sort of thing. And that sort of conflict, it's less productive, because it's harder to do anything about it. So if the conflict is over, say, how a specific feature could work on the site, well, then there's a way to sort of resolve those conflicts. But if the frustration is you have done something, or not done something in the past, that's so much harder to deal with. And I understand why; I'm not saying that people shouldn't be frustrated, but some of the manifestations that frustration are not really accomplishing what I would assume the goal is, like you said, you know, we're all trying to make the site better, and improve things for ourselves.
Juan M 9:42
Yeah. So what I seem to be hearing from the both of you is a conflict brings opportunity. But yeah, not everybody decides to take that path, right? Some decide to turn to the dark side and use the power for evil. Why do you all believe that that some users go there?
Jon Ericson 9:59
Ah, I have to say that -- It's hard to think of things this way. But I honestly think some people are just like, they act out as disruptive. And it's sort of a natural state for some people. I think we've probably seen those folks, maybe growing up or in our communities, or maybe even family members, people who are just disruptive, naturally. And so I think there's an element of people who are not really good at getting along. And that's sort of a shame, but I think you've got to account for that. You're not necessarily going to be able to solve their problems, because their problems go much (?) then what we can deal with.
Juan M 10:48
Okay, okay. Abby, what about you? Why would you say that some users go to this, go to this dark side, this negative side, when faced with a conflict?
Abby T 10:56
I always go toward the touchy feely feelings portion of the world. And so when I think of, you know, a given user who might make these choices, I observe that a lot of times it comes from a place of pain and hurt and suffering, you know, like, it comes from someone who's really committed to this community, or what this community is trying to do, if it's a Stack Exchange community, you know, the knowledge base we're putting together or, you know, it's my soccer team, and I want us to win or (I don't play soccer), but some community that they're a part of. And it's just not going well, either. Because you know, the team is losing, they lost the championships, or you're not feeling heard in the community, when you have your opinion about what we should do next, or what event we should do or whatever, and you just feel excluded and hurt and it happens continually. You don't feel those wins, you don't have those successes and feel included ever. And so when you start to feel like hey, maybe this community doesn't want me here, or doesn't want me around, then it starts to be pretty easy to say, Well, you know, screw those guys, I don't want them either, I'm going to try and knock down their sand castle that they're building over here. I think that's a really natural human way of reacting to continual kind of exclusion and the pain and emotional suffering that comes from that. And I think that that is sort of a byproduct of unproductive, unhealthy conflict, if we're having conflict, that we're not helping to alleviate the emotional burden of I think that this is one of the things that can result from that.
Juan M 12:21
Yeah, that's really good. I would also add that users who, members of the community who go to this negative aspect, I think for some of them, definitely not all of them, but some of them, it could also be a lack of options or resources. Not knowing that there's other things that they can do to try to make the situation better, things that they can appeal to, different angles that they could take to look at a situation differently, or they're so fixated on that one course that they're unable or unwilling to be able to step back and either, you know, step into the other person's shoes or their situation, or even look at it from a totally different angle, right, zoom out and get a bird's eye view, and assess. And sadly, this is just something that, you know, it's beyond our control. I mean, as community managers, we cannot control these individuals who come in and act this way. But what we can control is how these reactions affect the community. Right? So we can't control the actions of the individual or how another person takes it, but we can control how it affects the community. And so what are some ways that a community manager can change or improve how some of these difficult users interact with the community, maybe some of the negative repercussions, what can community managers do to turn this around?
Abby T 13:41
I am, I'm trying desperately to remember the article or the paper or who it was, who explained this concept to me originally. I've just got this dim memory of it in the back of my mind. But there is a principle where if you have a community or you know, say a conference that has a code of conduct or whatever, what is most important is that everyone agrees with the spirit of the law more so than the letter of the law. So everyone understands, it's hard to say, you know, we all understand the spirit of the law, because in order to describe the spirit of the law, you got to put it into words and words can be interpreted differently. And so we're never always going to be exactly on the same page. But the principle is that when someone comes in, and is doing something that is obviously detrimental to the community behaving in a way that is making people want to go away, it's making people not want to be there, it's damaging whatever the community is trying to build. But technically, they're not doing anything wrong. That's a problem with your code of conduct, your rules, your whatever. And it shows people that, you know, the Code of Conduct is there for appearances, it's there for us to point to and say, Look, we have a code of conduct, because it doesn't actually preclude anyone, we can't look at the code of conduct and say, your behavior is inappropriate, we gotta, you know, let you go or whatever. And so it's more important to make sure that you can be seen to uphold the spirit of these rules, the Code of Conduct or whatever. Someone comes in, they're being damaging in a way that is technically allowed, but you got to say, look, this is, we have to update the code to include this situation, because this is obviously detrimental. And we want to make sure that everyone else who's here who wants to be a productive and happy member of the community, they need to see that we care really deeply about having that, upholding that code of conduct, because otherwise, what's it there for? They're gonna say, Okay, great, they're not actually here to protect me, this thing's just there for show. It's okay, if things start to go south around here, maybe I can, you know, start to act out a little bit, and it kind of, people get the message that we don't actually really care. So I'm going to try and find that article, or whatever that was, about the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law, because it explained it a hell of a lot better than I did just now. But I think that vague concept that I'm trying to talk around is one that is really important to working with this kind of user community.
Juan M 15:54
That's pretty good. Jon, what -- continue.
Jon Ericson 15:56
I've definitely seen that principle at play. For the longest time, we had a principle like the, our code of conduct was essentially Be Nice, which is super vague and open to interpretation. And, but the nice thing about it is you could kind of tell people who were like, there wasn't any loopholes for people to work through. It was it was all like, Well, obviously, that wasn't a very nice thing to do. And so I have mixed feelings about having a code of conduct that sort of lays out here are some things that we want to exclude from our community. And here, you know, here's the way that you should behave in a little bit more regimented way. Because it does invite people to say, Well, I was nice, because I was following all of your rules. And, people who are going to be more productive members of the community, when you say, Hey, you know, what you did was technically okay under the rules, but it really didn't match up with the spirit or, you know, the principles behind it. We don't, it violated our Be Nice policy. So people who are going to be productive members will say, Oh, you're right. I'm really sorry, I will try to do better. And then there are other people who are like, well, I've followed your rule. And, so I agree with Abby, like, when you see that in practice, it's like, this person is not getting it. Like they don't understand the deeper reason for these rules.
Abby T 17:34
Yeah. And there's kind of a third character in that story, a third user who may be, and I think we experienced this a lot in our communities too, people who, when confronted with like, Hey, that was technically okay, but it really wasn't within the spirit of the rules. They'll say, Okay, I believe you. Thank you for telling me but I don't get it. I don't see why. I still don't understand what it was that I did. And I think that's where the community as opposed to the community managers are the moderators, with the leaders. That's where the community kind of self polices -- polices isn't the right word, because no one's in trouble -- but self regulates. Right? Self regulates, exactly, yeah, your fellow community members can maybe come in and help explain it to you, or you can just learn a lot from observing how other people are handling these same situations. And that's really important. And that makes people feel like, you know, this community is a self healing organism, it feels strong, it feels like this is the thing that can learn from its mistakes, and we can help each other and people really like to help each other. That makes people feel like really strongly part of a community. So that's, I think that's one of the best things that the Stack Exchange network can do. Side note. But yes, that's the third character that I throw in there.
Juan M 18:42
That's really good. I think at the end, when we are looking at our communities, because they are made up of individuals, we are going to have conflict, at some point or another there will be conflict, some will be productive, some will be detrimental. But it is up to the community itself, as Abby was mentioning, to self regulate, to put, you know, find out what exactly is going on, and then instruct all of the other members as to productive ways of handling that conflict. And, you know, for the moderators who are listening to this, we really appreciate all the work that you do, and the hours that you pour in because it's a difficult thing to deal with people, especially when you're coming in from a position of quote unquote, power. And you side with one user over another, that immediately is already displayed as Oh, you know, you're playing favorites, or, you know, you didn't really hear me out, or obviously, you have something against me or you're picking on me, that's not really the case. I mean, we want to be objective in all we do and sure we're human, we make mistakes. That's understandable. But learning and improving our conflict resolution skills in our repertoire, I think is what we need to do. I'm not going to ask you all for like specific resources or books or articles or, you know, newspaper clippings or whatever that you would recommend. But if there is something there, I mean, feel free to recommend it. But if not, I think just a general look into this topic, I think would do the community managers well, would do moderators well, even users well, because at some point, you're going to run into some other user who is going to push and give opposition to your viewpoint or your or your initiative. And so we just need to be prepared for that. Right?
Abby T 20:29
Yeah, I have a suggestion for anyone, anyone here, anyone listening, which is awhile back in 2015 or so when I first became a manager of people inside this company, as opposed to a community manager of people outside the company. We did a management training. There were probably 20 of us in the company at the time who were managers, and we did this training that involved taking a conflict style assessment, which was the TKI I think is the specific one that we did. It's, someone described it as one of those business horoscope kind of things, you know, like the Myers Briggs or whatever, the inneagram, like, it's basically astrology, but in business terms. But it's a really useful business horoscope, or it was a really useful business horoscope for me, not because it taught me how to manage conflict better. But just because it made me really aware of the different styles that people can have when they approach conflict, and what my own is. I'm a huge, I'm 98th percentile for conflict avoidance is my preferred style of conflict. My preferred style of conflict is not, not conflict. But it was really helpful to understand that about myself, and also my colleagues who are maybe more competing or more collaborating, or accommodating, or the other one that I forget, compromising. Those are the five in this particular business horoscope, to really understand that there are people who approach it differently than I do, who are going to interpret things differently than I am, feel differently about it. If I feel attacked, they're probably not attacking me, they just don't realize that I avoid conflict at all costs. And so I feel attacked by all of it. And so maybe we can find common ground there. So that was a really, really useful thing to do is just assess my own conflict style and understand that other people have different ones. And just come to the table with that, with that understanding. So you don't have to do that particular business horoscope. But just take a second to think about your own way of managing conflict. And imagine that there are people who do it differently. And then from there, I found really helpful.
Juan M 22:19
Excellent, excellent point. Excellent point. Well, we are at the end of our podcast. But, before we bid thee farewell, Jon, do we have any sponsor? Before I shut this?
Jon Ericson 22:29
Yes. We have, we've got different levels of sponsorship these days. This is new. This is our bronze level. It's the bronze announcer badge is our bronze level sponsor for this podcast. If you don't know about our announcer badge, it is given to people who share a link to a question that is visited by 25 unique IP addresses. And you can get it multiple times. And if all of that sounds strange to you, you don't know what an IP address is and how that works. All you do is use the little Share button at the bottom of any post. It doesn't have to be your own. It could be someone else's. Although people tend to share their own. And if you use that link and put it on one of those social media platforms, yeah, your MySpace, your --
Abby T 23:25
Jon Ericson 23:27
Juan M 23:28
Gotta update my MySpace. Thanks!
Abby T 23:30
I'm gonna put it on my Zynga. Yeah.
Jon Ericson 23:34
You do that, it will probably not get you the badge because no one else is on that page. But you could get all of your friends and family to click on the link and maybe get yourself a badge. And you know, like I said, that doesn't have to be your own post. You can even share, Oh, I don't know, one of the meta posts that we put up for this very podcast and earn yourself a shiny bronze badge.
Abby T 24:02
What a great idea.
Jon Ericson 24:03
Yeah, I don't know where that idea came from. It was whoever's idea it was. Abby was.
Abby T 24:10
Jon Ericson 24:13
I should not give credit when I don't remember for sure.
Abby T 24:16
Sounds like the kind of idea only a really smart and attractive person could dream up.
Juan M 24:20
You nailed it. That was all you. That was all you. So, you heard it here, folks. Take that link, put it on your Google Plus page. Share it like crazy. Well, that does it for us on this episode. Thank you all for joining. We hope that you enjoyed this. Any questions that you got, you guys know where that meta post is. Feel free to share some thoughts and some comments. We'd love to hear from you all. And with that, have a great rest of your day.
Jon Ericson 24:47
All right. Adios.
Abby T 24:49