Community Interactions: The Most Important Question You Can Ask

Communities and organizations are made of relationships. They consist of the connections we make between one another, and how we either move those connections forward or get in their way. It’s that simple.

Relationships which don’t benefit everybody involved don’t last. They may continue for awhile, because one person or group is in need of what they get from the other. The alleviation of their immediate short term pain is worth the hit they’re taking. But as soon as the one in the disadvantaged position gets the smallest edge on the situation, they’re going to look to flip the game. If you squeeze too hard on the advantage you have, you ultimately you lose a supplier, a team member, or a customer. So how can we can counter this natural, but totally destructive cycle? 

I’ve become fond of a simple qualifying question:

Is this helping us both be the best version of ourselves?

Whether you apply this question to an interaction between two individuals or to whole subsections of a big group, the effect is the same. Personally, it gets me to stop thinking about the next few hours or weeks, and helps me to see things in terms of years and defining moments, how the small choices I make everyday actually make me who I am. It frames you and the other guy as both having valid goals and things you care about, and things you’re probably both working towards. If I’m squeezing the situation too hard, its the wake up call I need to stop.

Communities can’t thrive if the people in it are treating each other like resources to be exploited. Consider what it would be like if the relationship in question gave you both extra strength and bandwidth so that you could each do what you do better. How would that get everyone where they want to be faster? Or make the relationship more durable? This line of thought is an insurance policy.

The only way to start is with yourself. Then you figure out how to incentivize your closest confidantes in the community to ask themselves this same question, and to share your answers or, as the case may be, your failings with each other. A small subset of a group practicing being thoughtful and measured in a shared effort in the face of conflict can change the nature of a whole network.