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October 18, 2007

The tweet is my kink - Don't make fun of members

Several days after taking Save the Tweet to the streets I have gotten no link love. Quite the contrary, in fact. Most of the comments to my post have been unsympathetic. In fact, the first commenter to that post, anonymous, told me to "get a life." Hmm. Grow a spine, anon.

Anyway, around the same time I came across this really thought-provoking post by Community Guy, Jake McKee. I love Jake's blog. Posts like this one really reinforce the love.

Ever make fun of a member for their passion about their trade or profession? We all have. Surely the walls of every association office in America have echoed the phrases "That guy has waaaay too much time on his hands" and "Doesn't she have better things to do than complain to us?" and "That guy needs to get a life." These are dangerous things to say about the people who put food on your dinner table.

As J-Nott tells his readers repeatedly, language matters. And if these words are floating around in your head long enough for them to spill out of your mouth, I have to question if you have the maturity to be an effective teammate. Many of today's most influential business authors tell us that empathy is a fundamental skill for the 21st century professional. If you can't empathize with a member's passion for their profession, even while working for that profession's association, you have absolutely no business in this business.

Those comments about members tear them down in your mind, just so that you feel a little better about yourself, relative to the person you just trashed. They also put up a wall of separation between you and them, obliterating your ability to think like them and come up with solutions to their problems. The less you think like a member, the less you'll empathize with members, the less you'll be able to meet their needs.

What usually brings on these comments? Criticism. Sure, it doesn't feel good to be criticized.

But here's how I look at it. Criticism is free consulting. Members who care enough to tell you what they really think, as long as it's in a constructive manner, should be sought out for crucial conversations, not flung to the fringes. And remember, for every one member who tells you about a problem, research shows there are ten others who say nothing because they don't care enough to tell you. The mere fact that they don't care enough to tell you about problems should really bother you.

I'm going to hold myself accountable for my comments, and thoughts, about "those annoying members." And, in Jake's words, everyone has their kink: the thing that they are obsessed about that makes absolutely no sense to most people. What's yours? That ought to make you think twice before saying, "They've got way too much time on their hands."

Tagged: ; ; ;


Kristi said...

Amen, brother! I can't begin to say how many times I've heard "these people are idiots" "they can't read" "they just don't get it" etc., etc. in my career. My first response is... no, YOU just don't get it.

I'll try to think about my kink and post something on it... thanks for the great post!

Ben Martin, CAE said...

It's like a scene out of Clerks sometimes.

Scott Briscoe said...

I'm not so sure... I was sitting around the lunchroom today and brought up your post. We agreed that if our members weren't such nincompoops that we'd be nicer to them.

(Everybody -- I'M JUST KIDDING! It never happened.)

Actually, I think an isolated comment is pretty harmless -- it may be a way to vent frustration or defuse a tense moment. Repeated comments, though, certainly send the wrong message, and I'd wonder why any repeaters would be trying to help the people they hold in such contempt.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

I'll go along with that Scott... Isolated ones are not so harmful. A pattern is troublesome.

Becky said...

Wow, Ben, fantastic post. This should be required reading at ALL associations. Thanks for keeping up the thoughtful commentary. :-)

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@Becky: thanks for posting the link to the Tech listserv and for your comment.