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The Community Club

Why Empathy is a Key Community Management Skill

Kirsti Buick
Writer. Lover of peanut butter, lifting heavy things and too-strong tea.
・3 min read

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, in a world where platforms, forums, and digital meeting spaces abound, those who manage to foster a sense of human connection are the ones who cut through the noise.

When asking folks what they think are the most important qualities or skills for a Community Manager to have, empathy, more often than not, is near the top of the list. This may feel like an odd skill to include in a job description, but with the varied responsibilities and need to form lasting relationships with members, empathy should be a critical factor for good Community Managers — and rightfully so.

What is empathy, exactly?

Empathy is the capacity for understanding, being aware of, or being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another person without explicitly being told what those things are. It is, arguably, the essence of human connection. However you conceptualize it — intuition, instinct, emotional intelligence, a sixth sense — it’s a vastly underrated skill in any field. In the world of community management, however, it’s invaluable. Let's take a closer look at the ways you might not have realized empathy was helping you level up as a CM.

Empathy can help you connect with a wide range of people.

Your community might be niche — but your members aren't. As a CM, chances are, you’re dealing with everyone from newbies to old hats and super-users to passive observers. Your community might be the only common thread tying them together. Understanding where they’re coming from (emotionally, perhaps more than anything else) and being able to meet them there is key to building a real, lasting connection.

Of course, as a CM being pulled in a plethora of different directions, you're not going to have the time for one-on-one chats with every new community member — so that instinct, that empathy, bridges the gap. It’s a critical tool that will allow you to make decisions that take their feelings, thoughts, and experiences into account. When you’re building trust (or maintaining it), that’s crucial.

It will enable you to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Sure, community dynamics can be unpredictable. But if empathy is key to understanding your members, it follows that it will go a long way in helping you get to grips with community dynamics. Understanding your members puts you in a better position to comprehend why they interact with each other (and you) in the way that they do — and predict potential issues or conflicts before they kick-off.

It will help resolve conflicts.

Conflict resolution skills are high up on the CM list of superpowers. And often, empathy is your secret weapon in satisfactorily resolving a conflict. What might have triggered an outburst? Could there be something going on behind the scenes? Has something been misinterpreted? A little empathy can go a long way in diffusing a complicated situation.

It can help you to know when to take action.

The ability to understand your members is great — knowing how (and if) to take action based on that knowledge is better. In community management, empathy is really the translation of that information into action, whether that be steps to improving a situation or an aspect of the community. Is this a niggle that will resolve on its own? Or does it require intervention — or innovation?

It will lead to better product decisions.

Community members are typically pretty good at telling you what they want, but not great at expressing what they need. Understanding the motivation behind their behaviors, and how those might translate into a need (perhaps even one they didn’t know they had) will keep you a step ahead in improving your product and community space.

A word of caution, though...

Empathy can exact a toll. If there are too many takers absorbing all your essential, empath energy, you’re putting yourself at risk of emotional burnout. Empathy is a tool, and like any tool, it’s important to recognize its limitations, especially when it comes to your own boundaries.

An old chestnut rings true here: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

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