This is the first article in a series on the characteristics that make community managers tick. Be sure to read the prologue, The Attributes of Great Community Managers (fixed link), to see what’s coming and to understand why I’m writing this series. I’m kicking it off with the attribute that makes all the others possible: self-respect.
I felt the topic of self-respect was essential to tackle first because it’s tough to do your job well, or even know that you’re doing your job well if you don’t have it. If you aren’t in a secure place in your own mind and heart, how could you possibly be caring, curious, or empathetic? How could you develop thick skin that wasn’t merely a hollow shell?
All community managers should already have or learn to develop massive self-respect. Also, they shouldn’t feel sorry about it. As I mentioned at the outset of this series, community managers are doing a challenging job. So any self-respect you already have is well deserved.
There are three areas where self-respect comes into play:
Respecting Your Time
Your time is the one thing you can never get back. Moreover, it’s the one thing that often gets taken for granted by community managers and those around them.
As a general rule, you should be getting paid for your time, one way or another. Pay doesn’t always come in the form of money. Influence, respect, joy, and other benefits are an excellent substitute for cold hard cash. However, that determination is up to you, not anybody else. Also, it’s up to you to set your foot down when your time is being disrespected. Not meanly, of course, but firmly.
For example, a member may walk up to you asking for a few new keycards just as you were on your way out the door after a long day of work. It’s 6:30 PM after all.
“New keycards? Did you lose some?” you might ask. No, it turns out that this member, the CEO of a startup team in your space, hired some new employees last week and they will be here tomorrow to start work. However, you know that new key cards aren’t all this member needs. His new employees will need to be set up in your management system, invoices must be sent and paid, and these new members need to attend a member orientation.
“It will only take a few minutes,” he adds.
Self-respect is saying, “I’m actually finished for the day. And we’ll need to get your new teammates into a member orientation before we give them keycards. That’s always been our policy. Normally we do new member orientations once every two weeks, but this one time we can set them up with a few day passes tomorrow morning and schedule them for orientation later in the day. If that works for you, we can set their new keycards up during the orientation. But in the future, it would be great if you could give me a big heads up when you hire some new people, so we’re not doing this last-minute.”
“Wait, so we have to pay for a day pass for each of them and then pay for their membership?” he might exclaim! ”
So you’ll say, “Yes, that’s right! Only members and day pass holders can use the workspace. And your new teammates can’t be members until after they go through orientation. So if they are going to work here tomorrow, you’ll need to get them some day passes. It should all be in the membership agreement you received. I’m happy to send you another copy if you need it. And oh! I’m really sorry, but I have to run, or I’ll be late. Let’s chat first thing tomorrow and explain our processes further if you’d like.” Even if you don’t have plans, your personal time watching Netflix with a glass of your favorite Malbec is just as important. Offer him a high five and start walking out.
Okay, I know. You’re screaming right now.
How could I suggest you walk out on a member? How could I not accommodate his simple request to set up some new members? After all, it would probably have only taken fifteen minutes or so.
However, that fifteen minutes is everything. It’s the foundation of your relationship with that member. If he does it once, he’ll do it again. And this is your first and most significant opportunity to train him that you respect yourself and your time and that he needs to as well.
The truth is, your members and your team rarely know how many plates you’re juggling. Nor do they know how full your head is with important stuff at any given moment. It’s not that they mean to disrespect your time, it’s just that they don’t see all the things you’re doing. They assume you’re balancing your time in some way. If a member sees you running an event, they think you must have come in later during the day, even if that wasn’t the case.
How to respect your time properly.
Don’t make a big deal out of it.
Treat respecting your time like it’s super reasonable. Like “oh, sorry I’m leaving for the day. Let’s do this tomorrow.” The apology is more about being polite than it is about actually being sorry. You’re a busy, in-demand human. You’ve got dinner to eat, maybe kids to spend time with, or Doctor Who to watch. Moreover, even if you’re young and single, that doesn’t mean your time is less valuable than that of a parent with children.
Always suggest best practices for the future.
Let your members and team know that if they want something done by a particular time, that certain conditions need to be met. As in, “Trust me, I totally understand this is important, but I can’t get to it until Thursday because we have an event tonight and I’ve got a few deadlines and things to take care of for other members until then. In the future, if you send me an email about your new teammates, I’ll usually have them set up within 48 hours, and the key cards will be ready for pickup when you come in the morning after that.
Never, ever, ever back off. Always respect your time. You should only ever forego this notion in the case of a real emergency or because you want to do something, in which case you’re not disrespecting your time at all.
A real emergency is when there is a risk of loss of life, harm to another, or a significant amount of damage to property, reputation, or your bottom line. You have to use your judgment as to whether or not something is an emergency. To me, a typo on an email is not an emergency; you can’t even do anything about it. However, a burst pipe that’s gushing water inside your space at 1:00 AM is definitely an emergency.
Use your time your way.
As mentioned in the last section, if you want to stay late to help a member because it makes you happy, do it. If working 14-hour days is helping you build your reputation and influence, and that’s what you’re after, by all means, go for it. Respecting your time is about using your time the way you want to use it. Period.
Respect Your Words
Think about how your words are regarded when you tell a member or your team something. Are they considered the opinion or statement of a subordinate or that of an equal? How do you treat your own words? Do you make lofty promises you can’t keep? Do you find yourself recoiling inward when you propose an unpopular course of action or state an unshared opinion?
It could be the weekly team meeting where your innovative marketing ideas struggle to get a footing over the opinion of Gary, the so-called social media expert. Alternatively, it could be the happy hour when you share a critical view on blockchain technology only to be laughed at and patted on the head by the blockchain bros that know “it’s gonna change the world, man.” Disrespect for your words is happening in both of these situations.
However, there’s one more scenario that’s far more important to consider.
You know those times when you say you’ll do something, but you don’t? Or times when you make something sound more significant and more important than it is? In these moments you’re the culprit. Disrespecting your own words is the worst offense. It melts away your character and self-confidence faster than dropping an ice cube into your freshly brewed mint tea.
How to respect your words properly.
Fight for your ideas.
Any given community manager is likely to be one of the less experienced people on a coworking team, at least for many spaces. Though I hope this changes over time, the community manager is generally considered to be an entry-level position. Which means there’s at least some chance that you’ll be talked down to and that your words will carry less weight in meetings and the community. I know how it feels, trust me.
However, you should never regard your words as less than another’s, even if the others act that as if that were true. You have your own experience and perspective. In your role you see things the others don’t; things they can’t see. That’s very important. Remember that.
Beyond that, you must fight for your ideas, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. People gain respect for those that believe in themselves and their opinions. Don’t be a jerk, but push back when people try to shut you down. Do it respectfully, but firmly. If you present a good case, and somebody doesn’t give it the time of day, challenge them to justify his or her takedown of your idea.
Give respect to others.
The respect for words goes both ways. You should never regard your opinion or the things you say as more important than anyone else’s views or words, especially somebody more senior than you. Doing so publicly makes you look terrible, but even privately these thoughts deteriorate your character. So by all means, hang onto your darlings, but realize that just because you respect yourself doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody. It doesn’t mean that others are stupid for not going along with what you think. You’re a member of a team after all.
Be impeccable with your word.
Always keep your word. When you say you’ll do something, to yourself or your team or your members, do it every time. Especially if you want people to start respecting your words more, it’s paramount that you do what you say you’ll do.
If you commit to a result, push as hard as you can to get there, otherwise, don’t commit to it. If you say you’ll be on time, then make sure you’re on time. If you make a promise, even to yourself, keep it.
Respecting Your Boundaries
It’s a real struggle for many community managers to separate their work-life and their personal life. Often, the CM role requires parties, personal connection, and creating a genuine feeling of friendship with members. It can often feel like the coworking space and the work surrounding it are your life, and vice versa.
But don’t fall into this trap. While you may be friendly with your members, and even friends with some of them, not all members are your friends. Nor are all your teammates. At the same time, while we live in an era where everybody is accessible with the click of a button, it’s not okay to be receiving texts about work at all hours.
If you ever feel like the lines are blurring, take a step back and analyze. Do you involve members or teammates in personal events/dinners/parties merely because you’re expected to? Are you finding yourself inviting unwanted people to your home or out to drinks with your personal friends? Are you supposed to integrate every personal project into the coworking space’s agenda and goals? Does your team expect you to reply to work-related messages at all hours and on the weekend?
If you’re saying yes to any of the above questions, it’s a sure sign that your boundaries are not only being disrespected but that they don’t exist in the first place.
It’s important to draw lines in the sand here if you want to. If you wish the coworking space to be your life, to launch every project in partnership with your team or members, then that’s your prerogative. Just know that it’s okay not to do that. Indeed a coworking space can be an excellent place to connect and create meaningful work, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to spend all your time there. It’s okay just to be a human.
How to Establish Boundaries
Separate your communication channels.
Your team may have your personal phone number in the event of emergencies, but this is not permission for them to text you about work all the time. Your team should have internal communication channels like email and Slack. Keep all work chatter to your work channels or risk, as I once did, getting incessant texts about the space at all hours. Nothing ruins your night out with friends like reading a text from your boss. Even if your boss didn’t intend for the message to seem urgent, it will always feel that way to you.
In fact, France recently passed a law giving French citizens the right not to reply to work email after certain hours. I think you should take a lesson from them here.
Know your boundaries and communicate them.
It’s true that at the beginning of your coworking career, you may not know how your work and life will interact with one another, but you have to always be thinking about your boundaries. Moreover, when you realize something isn’t working for you, you need to set that boundary and tell the others around you.
Such as, “Hey Gary, I noticed you like to work at all hours and send messages to me about work, which is cool. But that’s not my style. From now on I’d appreciate it if you’d only send me work messages via email or Slack. And preferably only email if it’s after hours.”
Alternatively, “Actually, I just stepped out here to listen to a podcast and drink my coffee, so I’m off-limits for the next 30 minutes. If you need something just grab me when I’m back inside.”
Get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.
Setting boundaries with colleagues and members can feel super uncomfortable. That’s to be expected. The best thing you can do is get used to that discomfort.
When a boundary is being violated, just say so. “Hey I’m not okay with doing that because it doesn’t jive with my values of transparency and honesty,” or “actually I just want to do this project on my own and I’m not looking for the space to be a partner,” or “yes, we did go out for drinks last night, but I just wanted to spend some time with Jess and Andy on my own, so I didn’t invite others,” or “if you want to chat about work, please send me a Slack message or email, and I’ll respond to it when I’m working, which is not right now.”
The real challenges with building self-respect for people that don’t have it are:
- Realizing it’s 100% possible. As a kid, I had almost no self-esteem or confidence. Now I have loads.
- Working through the asshole phase. As you practice building your self-respect, occasionally you’re going to be a jerk. It’s inevitable as you navigate communicating your needs and boundaries for the first time. The best thing you can do is be conscious of it and apologize when you realize you’ve been disrespectful, but still firm in your boundaries.
The more you do what I’ve outlined in this article, the easier it gets and the less awkward it feels. Over time, people also respond better to you putting your foot down. Part of that is that they know, through your previous actions, that you do not compromise your self-respect. The other part is that practicing self-respect is a virtuous cycle. As you build your confidence, you stop coming off as hesitant, so people stop feeling like they can change your mind or push you around.
What’s more, it’s good for business. When people are clear about their boundaries, their values, and when they’ll be on or off the clock, they’re just more comfortable to work with. It’s easier to know what to expect. Which ultimately means you’ll be more valuable to your team and community.
My last recommendation is to start building your self-respect immediately. Yesterday would have been great, but now will do just fine.