There are many different categories of diversity and, as community practitioners, continuously learning about them and questioning our assumptions will only help us build more inclusive communities. In this episode of Community Signal, we’re joined by Wesley Faulkner, a DevRel advocate at Daily, who also advocates for neurodiversity.
Wesley and Patrick discuss several ways in which we can build for inclusivity within our products, communities, and teams, all through the lens of specific real-world situations. For example, if we approached writing job descriptions with inclusivity, would terms like “rock star” and “extrovert” still make their way into job descriptions? How can career tracks that account for the different skills and ambitions of the community managers on our teams create more inclusive games, communities, and more? As Wesley says in this conversation, “constraints makes things better. Some people think that if you do accessibility, that you’re restricting the creativity of the medium, but … when you make [things accessible from] the beginning, it actually can make things better for everyone.”
Take the example that Wesley shares about sidewalks. When sidewalks were redesigned to include ramps for people that use wheelchairs, this also made it “easier for people who are running and jogging on the sidewalk, people who had strollers, [and] for little kids so they would trip less.” How can designing your community with inclusion in mind aid your community members and colleagues?
Patrick and Wesley discuss:
- Designing for neurodiverse communities
- Coaching your community members to be positive contributors
- Managing community managers with different skills and ambitions
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If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsors: Vanilla, a one-stop shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community.
Designing your community with accessibility for neurodivergent members in mind (08:27): “In terms of tools [to accommodate neurodivergent people], one easy trick I learned is that if you can navigate the community just with your keyboard, you’re hitting a good 80% to 90% of … use cases in terms of accessibility.” –@wesley83
Accessible communities make for more inclusive communities (12:16): “Constraints make things better. Some people think that if you do accessibility, that you’re restricting the creativity of the medium, but constraints actually can make things so much more elegant. When you make [things accessible from] the beginning, it actually can make things better for everyone.” –@wesley83
Make the implicit of your community explicit (21:09): “Is this person helping the community or hurting the community? If they’re hurting the community, can you define what it is that they are doing that hurts the community? [Is it] written into the community guidelines?” –@wesley83
Codifying what it means to be a positive community contributor (24:02): “Moderation is education. You’re telling people how to be the best member they can be in the community. If you’re going to do that, then you have to codify what that is.” –@patrickokeefe
About Wesley Faulkner
Wesley Faulkner is a developer advocate for Daily, a 1-click video chat API. He’s previously spent time in developer advocacy or community at IBM, Atlassian, and LiveWorld. Wesley is also the co-host of the Community Pulse podcast, and an advocate for neurodiversity.
- Sponsor: Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community
- Sponsor: Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community
- Wesley Faulkner on Twitter
- Community Pulse podcast
- Wesley on his journey through DevRel
- Neurodiversity as defined by Merriam-Webster
- Cyberpunk 2077 sequences may cause seizures (via Polygon)
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Cindy Au’s tweets about one stereotype and unfortunate job requirement in the community industry
- The Other Diversity: Neurodiversity (via Maggie McGary)
- Wesley recommends Brené Brown and the Different Minds podcast
- Special thanks to Carrie Melissa Jones and Maggie McGary for their input on this episode
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Vanilla, a one-stop-shop for online community and Localist, plan, promote, and measure events for your community. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thanks for listening to our show. Neurodiversity and online community management, that’s what we’re talking about on this episode with Wesley Faulkner, a neurodiversity advocate who has been working in community and developer relations for several years.
Thank you to our Patreon supporters, including Rachel Medanic, Serena Snoad, and Carol Benovic-Bradley. If you’d like to join them, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle, and if you have any ideas for things we could do on Patreon, feel free to contact me via communitysignal.com.
Wesley Faulkner is a developer advocate for Daily, a 1-click video chat API. He’s previously spent time in developer advocacy or community at IBM, Atlassian, and LiveWorld. Wesley is also the co-host of the Community Pulse podcast and an advocate for neurodiversity. Wesley, welcome to the show.
[00:01:14] Wesley Faulkner: Hi, thank you for having me.
[00:01:16] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. I’m sure that some of our listeners have not heard the term neurodiversity before. What does it mean?
[00:01:23] Wesley Faulkner: There’s a lot of definitions. The one that I like to attach is that there is a dichotomy of neurodivergent and like having normal as the base and being different around that, but the concept of neurodiversity that I like to subscribe to is that everyone is slightly different, everyone thinks slightly different, and embracing that as the nuance of differences that we have in our society as people, and that we as people who are neurodiverse aren’t necessarily anything special, it’s just that we now have names for different categories, but we all are on the spectrum.
[00:02:02] Patrick O’Keefe: What are some of those categories?
[00:02:05] Wesley Faulkner: There are some that are in the realm of inherited. There is dyslexic, people who have problems with social disorders, there’s PTSD, which can be inherited due to some sort of TBI, traumatic brain injury. There are also chemical imbalances based off depression, anxiety, that type of stuff, and then there are people who are autistic, who are born into this spectrum and there have been like Asperger’s, in different spectrum of that set subcategory and there’s so many different kinds that I myself am still learning, but it’s one of those things where it’s thought of as not just something you’re born with, but something you can also develop depending on some sort of either injury or some late-stage development.
[00:02:53] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you. That’s helpful. Thank you. In my research before the show, I just Googled the phrase and read a whole lot of different articles and definitions and things about it to get a good sense of it, and one of the definitions I came away from Merriam Webster was that neurodiversity is, quote, “the concept that differences in brain functioning within the human population are normal, and that brain functioning that is not neurotypical should not be stigmatized.”
[00:03:17] Wesley Faulkner: Exactly, yes.
[00:03:18] Patrick O’Keefe: I seem to be able to grasp that one. [laughs]
[00:03:20] Wesley Faulkner: Yes. Neurotypical is the other word that I couldn’t think of the other side of neurodivergent, and so yes, there’s two categories, but they should be all seen on a spectrum of different ways of thinking rather than one’s normal, the other one’s abnormal.
[00:03:35] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you, awesome. Why are you an advocate for neurodiversity?
[00:03:38] Wesley Faulkner: I was thinking about this. I think the way, my view is, life changes after you have kids and you want to make a better life for the people behind you, and the way that I could do that is to be in front of the problem in terms of the stigmatization of neurodiversity, for people who aren’t neurotypical and make sure that people are aware of it, and the different shapes and forms.
I think in terms of autism, growing up Rain Man is what people would think of autism that can’t be touched, don’t like changing routines, and you can count matches if they just are on open and dropped onto the floor, some of those type of savant type of activities. I think as people meet others that have some of these conditions, and they can realize that there’s different ways that these can present and there are some advantages and there are some things that people may not seem like they present.
They come in all shapes and forms and I think that I want to be part of the solution of exposing people to a vast array of how these type of people present themselves and how they look and how they can be “normal.”
[00:04:54] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s awesome. I think that I feel confident that many of our listeners want to be part of that solution, too. That’s a big reason why I wanted to have a conversation around neurodiversity. I realize it’s a big topic, as you alluded to, there’s a lot of categories, there’s a lot of differences that people have. Those will have different needs or they’ll be stronger in different ways, so I realize that it’s a big topic.
With that in mind, I want to talk about how we can, as community professionals, maybe do a better job at being accommodating. How the tools we build can maybe do a better job at tapping into the strengths of all people, or of at least more people, in this case, more neurodiverse audiences and groups. I want to tackle that in a few ways, how we manage communities, how we lead teams, and how we look at software.
Just to start it off, when you go into a community, you start with the software, even if you’re reading the interaction is the software behind that’s powering it, the usability of the page, however, you want to term it. Just to start us off, how can we design software, and feel free to look at it from the perspective of you, the people that you love, the people that you talk with all the time, whoever. How can we design better community software that better accommodates neurodivergent people, what does sort of an ideal community platform look like, or at least a strategy to achieve that?
[00:06:10] Wesley Faulkner: I think one thing, and this took me a while to realize, is that there has to be a lot of education, even if you are considered “on the spectrum” or anywhere that is outside of the neurotypical range. Because there’s a lot of learning that I had to do personally just to understand all the needs and wants of the greater community. It’s almost like if you are a person who might be colorblind and then someone says, what’s it like to be colorblind, and it’s almost hard to explain because you’ve only lived your life a certain way. You have to learn all the different ins and outs and what different aspects of different personalities mix and match in terms of making a whole person.
For me, being dyslexic, it’s harder for me to read than it is to see iconography. I think if you are approaching a community and structuring communities to make sure that there are multiple ways to have the person understands what you’re trying to do for them. That could be a walkthrough. A good– In the computer industry is called OOBE, out of box experience of walking through the different processes of this is you create your account, you set up a picture, you choose your username, like a good walkthrough to get used to the community.
Or even suggestions like, hey, do a little intro and this part, tell us a little bit about your hobbies, those type of things of how to actually ingratiate yourself to the community. Also, making sure the reward system is also geared towards good behavior positive behavior, rather than for instance, I’ve seen some rewards of if you post 20 times in a week, you get some reward or badge. Make sure you reward the behavior you want, and not just gamification of the system to get engagement.
Positive posts or comments of encouragement, that kind of thing where you can structure your community so that you can reward the actual benefits of the community for others rather than it being a gamified experience for the individual user, you want to be additive rather than something is just noise instead of signal. I think that’s one thing the community should do to tailor it to people to have more accessibility.
In terms of tools, one easy trick that I learned is that if you can navigate the community just with your keyboard, that you’re hitting a good 80% to 90% of some of the use cases in terms of accessibility. The reason for that is if someone can’t use a mouse and is using some other pointing device, that is a good test. For someone like me who’s dyslexic, if it’s just keyboard accessible, that means also that screen readers are also going to be accessible because of the tagging involved with navigation. I would say, off the top of my head, those are some of the things that I would do to help it make it more accessible to the most amount of people.
[00:09:07] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s stop here to talk about our generous sponsor, Vanilla.
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This is related/unrelated, but there was just this big video game released, Cyberpunk 2077, everyone’s talking about online. I haven’t played it. I don’t know. I like Keanu Reeves, I don’t know. They’re having a problem with seizures. For someone who is developing a visual medium, right, that you’re going to ask people to consume in that way, I don’t develop video games. I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone, but it obviously seems like an oversight that you didn’t think about how people will consume something visually and the differences that people have and how they participate in that experience, to where reviewers were trying to review the game and had seizures.
That just makes me think about when I think about community software builders, people who are making software at a certain scale that wanted to reach a lot of people that wanted to be successful products because I think that’s where the greatest impact comes in for accessibility for online communities is when a software maker does it and makes it a priority, people just use the software.
That’ll impact hobbyists who have no money, who are installing software that’s open-source. It’ll impact enterprises who have money, who are choosing expensive software. If you bake it in, and you make that investment, then you’re going to make the internet a better place and you’re going to make online communities more accessible.
When I think about all of those things, I just think about the need for community builders to make sure that they are testing their software with as wide a group as possible and feasible, and as diverse a group as possible and feasible. Diversity in every way as far as how you’re going to consume that medium. How you consume text content. You mentioned screen readers, it’s not just reading on the page, it’s what can read that software, how can it be imported into other things? How can other tools interact with it?
The keyboard thing is such a good hack, a good tip, if you’re building in that usability, you’re really helping a lot of people out of the box. I don’t know, things like this just seem to speak to the need to always be inclusive on the testing and seeding and just beginning stages side.
[00:11:36] Wesley Faulkner: The best is if you can get that inclusion on the other side of that equation of having the people who are developing the software to be a very diverse group so that their wants and needs and considerations are done in the planning phase so that you can get that over with at the very beginning, rather than trying to bolt it on at the end, once the problem is discovered of saying, “Oh, now people are having seizures.” Then they have to go back to redesign levels to think about the composition of some of their positioning in shots and their camera movement in the video game just to work around the problem.
One thing that’s very important is actually constraints make things better. Some people think that if you do accessibility, that you’re restricting the creativity of the medium, but constraints actually can make things so much more elegant. When you make accessibility at the beginning at the base, it actually can make things better for everyone. Have you heard of the curb example?
[00:12:39] Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t think so. Please, tell me.
[00:12:41] Wesley Faulkner: Before, sidewalks would go up to the rounded curb and you would just walk into the street and then walk on top of the curb onto the sidewalk and keep going. The ADA, Americans with Disability Act, said that these sidewalks are not accessible. They started cutting the curbs to make little ramps for the sidewalks so that people in wheelchairs could now access them.
Then it made things easier for people who are running jogging on the sidewalk, people who had strollers to be able to get up and down, for little kids so they would trip less. There’s all of these knock-on benefits for making it accessible. Then even today, we’re hearing during the pandemic of these little autonomous robots that are rolling down the street to deliver meals. Those would not be possible if we didn’t have cut curbs.
[00:13:35] Patrick O’Keefe: Such a great point. Two things that I want to pull out. Number one is such a great DevRel example. Credit to you on making sure that the people on the other side of the table are also as diverse as possible, diversity builds better products. Then the cut curb example is, I live in LA. I’ve lived in LA for, gosh, two and a half years now, and before that, never lived in really a city of any big size. When I got here, I bought a handcart because I’m often walking to different tasks. I walk to the post office, I walk to my eye doctor, I walk to the grocery store, I walk to all these places. I bought a handcart I could pull it along and when I use the handcart, I go on the ramps. [chuckles]
To your point, it made it better. I also try to be aware of the ramps because other people, I don’t know, some of the bicyclists probably shouldn’t be on the sidewalk, frankly, but people on other wheel devices like skateboards, bicycles, et cetera, are using the ramp. I’m like, “Oh, okay.” It’s changed how I stand on sidewalks and how I stand to wait for the light to change to make sure that I’m not in that area. Even if I’m not using it, it’s a signal to me to clear that space. I don’t know if it’s a signal to enough people that I see but it’s a signal to clear that space if you’re not using it.
[00:14:40] Wesley Faulkner: As a kid, I used that sidewalk often because I grew up in Houston, huge urban environment where we had those sidewalks but we had no bike lanes. It was actually safer to ride on the sidewalk than it was on the street because of very large trucks in Texas that are everywhere and we were kids and so we weren’t going that fast. It was just in our little neighborhood, so yes, I hear you there. Speaking of kids and strollers, we also use those little collapsible wagons for our kids. It’s good to have those cut curbs for that example too.
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I want to go back to one other thing you said toward the beginning about good behavior, about modeling good behavior, about encouraging good behavior, something we should be doing anyway. In building communities, that’s a universal thing. When I asked you about encouraging neurodiversity, you mentioned that specifically. Can you talk a little bit more about that and why that is, why that came to mind? Why good behavior benefits all, especially in a case like this?
[00:16:07] Wesley Faulkner: I’ll bring an example of my own personal experience. There are times where I personally will ask a question because I want the answer rather than thinking about how it’s being phrased. Why did you come up with that example? When you’re thinking about saying that in texts, like typing in, why did you come up with that example? The person on one end could be thinking about, “I want to know your thought process that led you to use that as an example,” but someone else could be reading, “What? Was there something wrong with the example?”
The tonality is lost in the way that it’s communicated. The nuance of feeling like, this is just, instead of asking questions to get answers, it’s conveying judgment about what I was doing. I think those differences in terms of what the meaning of the approach versus how it could be received on the other end, is some of the things where when you think about community guidelines, you think about the terms of service, you think about how you want people to use your community.
Being able to set up a structure about how things are being hung onto it so that you can say, worrying about like, this is like a judgment-free zone, or, this is how we’re going to debate ideas or the critiques are on the individual views, not on the person. No homonym attacks, those types of things. If you can build a structure where you’re trying to say, “This is the environment we want to create, and this is how we want people to relate to each other,” then some of the lift of saying like, “No bad intentions is what we would like for people to assume of the other person,” that is something that if you can set up a structure where everyone understands the ground rules, that it makes it easier to have those types of communications without any conflict.
It’s important to structure it so that you that reward that, hey, remember, we’re just doing it this way, or we’re not trying to poke holes. We all have valid ideas, we’re just trying to use this as a forum to have that kind of communication. You can either say like, “There are no wrong answers. There are only different ways of doing things.” There are different ways of structuring that so that you can make sure that there’s room for everyone.
[00:18:20] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. I think when people hear different terminology that aren’t familiar with like neurodiversity perhaps, the thought is like, what work will this require of me to be a passively good citizen let’s say, not a great citizen, just passively good. This is something that should already be baked in. I think all my listeners are pretty much going to be already doing is building respectful communities. When you do that, you’re unlocking things. Much like you mentioned constraint. You’re unlocking something else. You’re unlocking opportunities that will happen just because you did it this way and that more people are going to be welcome in that environment. That’s a really good point.
I want to talk about moderation and community decisions that we make. Moderation’s a good one for me because, in many ways, it’s that act of telling someone what they can and cannot do, which leads to conflict and is a test for a lot of good communities, right? Setting those norms and then enforcing them, right? How do you have a respectful community? By getting rid of the people who aren’t, right?
Specifically, thinking about being accommodating and neurodiverse for our community, how can we, and I want to phrase this the right way. Moderators look at tons of decisions, right? Most moderators I know are trying their best. They’re doing their best job. Oftentimes, overworked, oftentimes underpaid. Oftentimes, depending on who they work for, especially, if they work for Facebook. They’re looking at situations and they’re making judgments and they’re talking to people about those judgments.
When I think about moderation and making that better, making it more accessible, making it more accommodating, I’m thinking about things that they can employ. Tips that they can use, ways they can approach a situation that help them to reach more people. Within the context of our conversation, do you have any thoughts on how to be more successful at those types of decisions?
[00:19:58] Wesley Faulkner: I think that one thing is to make sure that the implicit is explicit. I think that as moderators when we’re thinking about looking at roles that people play in a community, there’s the person who is a lurker, there’s the person who creates a lot of contents, and there’s a person that is more of a critic and critiques any new news that is being announced, I think we all play a part.
There is one issue, this is a little off-topic, but I was talking to someone who is managing a community and the person in the community happened to be a competitor that was in the community group. They were poo-pooing things, but they weren’t really disclosing that they work for a competitor. They’re like a negative Nancy in the group and poisoning it. There was a lot of discussion saying, “Should we just kick the person out? Should we just send him a message saying you’re not allowed to do that?”
If you looked at the community guidelines, they weren’t doing anything that was against the community guidelines. They didn’t say it couldn’t be a competitor, it didn’t say you couldn’t say negative things. What we did is just had a discussion of, let’s just have an exercise to figure out, is this person helping the community or hurting the community? If they’re hurting the community, can you define what it is that they are doing that hurts the community? Is it them talking negative? No, it was the lack of transparency and the disclosure of what interests that they are aligning with.
That is something that was then written into the community guidelines and the rules of saying, “If you are representing someone that could be seen as an adversarial entity, you need to disclose that.” I use that example to bring it back to neurodiversity and people who participate in the community. If their interaction may seem argumentative, it might seem like they aren’t “taking the hint” if you try to gently nudge them in a moderation standpoint, it might be because what they are doing or what they’re seen as doing is not against the rules, thus it’s allowed.
Some of what’s generally accepted as normal behavior or a positive behavior may not be apparent to them that they are doing something that is against the community because it’s not in the rules. There might be a possibility of doing the first thing I suggested was you just go directly to the person and just explain things, but the best thing to do is if you can codify that into the community guidelines, it’s better to be able to point to something saying these are the rules.
Some people who are on the spectrum, or when I say spectrum, I don’t mean just autistic, I mean, in general, no matter where you put them, rules can be very clear if it’s explicit about what is not allowed. I know you don’t want to list every last thing, but if you can just narrow it down to some really thick guidelines that may be assumed, like, “You must be over 18 to join this group,” it might be assumed if you have a community that’s doing something very advanced or something explicit that it would be assumed that the person who is over 18, but you might just need to put that in there.
If you can say that you can’t hurl insults willy-nilly, and what’s considered an insult at that point? Do you use the Scrabble dictionary? What are you using as your basis of what’s insulting or not? Those things are hard questions. It’s not necessarily you have to figure them out immediately when you set up a group, but if there is something that you can consistently say, “This is an issue,” try to do the exercise of figuring out what is causing the issue and just adding that to the list.
[00:23:34] Patrick O’Keefe: I like it a lot. What I hear is cutesy guidelines are a problem. People sometimes will have this thought where they’re like, “My guidelines are, don’t be a jerk.”
[00:23:45] Wesley Faulkner: Yes, or don’t be stupid.
[00:23:46] Patrick O’Keefe: I always, always, and people might ding me for having long guidelines, which is probably a fair criticism. I get it. Probably too verbose in some scenarios, but to have any meaning, which is really what you want to convey here is meaning and helpful definition that allows– Moderation is education. You’re telling people how to be the best member they can be in the community. If you’re going to do that, then you have to codify what that is.
Having those policies in terms are good for all so that we all have a playing field and cutesy guidelines where people have to like, what’s a jerk? I don’t know. I meet people all the time who I think are jerks. They probably don’t think of themselves that way. Just having those specific terms to apply from something that we should be doing, and it’s yet another really good example of good for one, good for all.
If we all have the same playing field, that truly means we all have that same understanding of the guidelines as much as possible, there will be disagreements, but that’s on us as moderators to then apply them fairly and consistently on top of our definitions to make the actions to meet the words. That’s our responsibility, but on the member side and when we’re communicating those things, to be successful, having an outline information and not assuming what you said, make the implicit explicit, a great way to put it is don’t assume that people know what you mean when you say, “This post was removed because,” some vague reason. Be respectful. Quote the area that was the problem, not just the whole 1,000-word post, where was the sentence that was the problem in there? What needs to be adjusted for the future? Yes, such a great tip. That’s helpful.
[00:25:18] Wesley Faulkner: Your job as a moderator is to train the members to be better members and if you’re not using those opportunities to learn, you’re just skipping those by to say, “I’m just removing this because it hurts the other members,” but the member that you’re chastising or disciplining or warning or removing their post, they need to learn too especially if you want to try to keep them in your community.
[00:25:38] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, a good way to put it. A lot of people are afraid of that word. They don’t like to say, “You’re going to be even manager.” [laughs] He’s like, “You don’t manage your community.” Whatever we’re going to call that person something, we moderate, we remove content, I don’t know, we provide them a pillow through which to display their post, I don’t know.
You’ve managed people, you’ve been managed, I’ve managed people, I’ve been managed. You told me before the show that when you were at LiveWorld, you were in charge of Walmart’s Twitter account, which oof, man, what an experience that must have been. You had to manage anywhere between 65 and 90 moderators, depending on the time of year, so you have experience managing people.
I want to take this into a leadership position because you wrote an article about your journey through DevRel. In it, you said that, “Part of what has made this so painful is that the companies and managers that I’ve worked with have been less than understanding”. I’d love to talk about that, talk about managing neurodiverse teams. Where should we start?
[00:26:32] Wesley Faulkner: Wow, that’s a big, big one. I think in terms of both being a manager and being managed is that knowing and realizing that employees are people and they’re all different. Even if they have all the same title, they can’t treat them the same.
When I was managing 65 to 90 people and the moderators on the Walmart’s Twitter account, some people did it for fun, they’re bored and so they wanted a job. Some people really wanted to be really good and to advance through the company. Some people just clocked in and clocked out and took vacation whenever they need to. Some people just didn’t care, they limped in and did what they needed to do not to get fired.
All of those people are going to be employees depending on the job, it’ll vary about the different amounts, but there are people who feel their job is a career and the rung of that ladder, that that job might be in the middle, might be the end, it might be the beginning. They could use it as a stepping stone to go to the next thing or they can say, “This is a job I want to have for the rest of my life.”
Treating everyone like that is valid, how they approach it. Each one of those are valid. That’s not a wrong way of looking at it, but you can figure out different motivations for people like, hey, do you want to give them more complicated projects and tasks on the side to get them more hours and more experience, or do you want them to have the maximum amount of flexibility so they can pursue their own passions so that they are happy that the job integrates with something that they’re already doing? Or is it something where they don’t care that much so maybe you give them maybe some tasks that are more repetitive that they don’t have to really think and they can just sit there, be mindless and brainless, and get it done.
From the I.C. standpoint, from me, I think there’s a myth generally speaking of the well-rounded employee. You’re going to fall back on email possibly or your daily tasks or your long-term vision task or the planning scheduling task with a creative task. In social media, if you think of a post, there’s copy, there is scheduling, there is graphics design or video editing depending on what kind of media that you’re putting into it. There are things that you can be mediocre and it still be okay.
As an employee, I think there are people who complement each other. There might be someone who’s really good at graphic design and I might be really good at copy, and I think we should take together instead of each of us doing the same task where my task is really crappy at graphic design but really good at copy and someone’s a really good graphics designer but their copy sucks.
I think if you look at teams and try to pair people together, I think that is where most of the good work happens. There’s that saying, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together, I think it’s the same with employees and relationship with management that I might not communicate well because of my dyslexia via text. My Slack messages might be short, my emails might be short, but if we have a daily standup where it’s a video call, I might be able to give you a whole bunch of detail and nuance that I would not do otherwise. I think approaching employees with that sense of nuance and understanding that they’re all different is something that would make us all a little bit better.
[00:29:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s such a great point. I was homeschooled and I was one of three brothers. We were all homeschooled, but we all learn differently. The curriculum we had and the method of learning, visual text, audio, whatever, was different for each of us. That was something I always valued about that experience.
I didn’t go to college. I’ve been managing community since I was 13 years old. I looked at college, I wanted to play baseball, but I was already moderating and working professionally in this space and I was like, “Eh, I’m going to do that,” my next brother did go to college has a four-year degree in entertainment. It’s like the need to look at people individually and not have everybody behave the exact same way, is something that I think a lot of people say they do or think they do, but they don’t.
At a recent role, I had a new boss come in about halfway through my tenure. She had a policy where we would do video calls. It was a remote company, but she would force you to be on video. It was her policy that you’d be on video. Me personally, I’m okay with that but I knew that some of my team that wasn’t necessarily how they would be most comfortable. I communicated that and did what I could to push back against the VP at the company. It was unfortunate because I knew that I had people in community, I was just talking about this with someone about how a lot of us are introverts in community work, even though it may seem like extroverted work. Then there’s these job posts that ask you to be the life of the party. Cindy Au put out a tweet the other day that was so good and it was about sort of the job posting to act like you need to be a star of the party or be a rock star. I just hate that stuff. There are some people and those people are great and that’s good.
It’s tough because I had shy people that did great work, and then internally, maybe didn’t get the respect they deserve. Of course, I’m here pushing back against that, because my bosses are like, “Why isn’t this person doing more?” I’m like, “Look at the numbers.” This person’s doing all of this work. These communities are growing in activity. They’re generating this amount of revenue. Yes, maybe they’re unassuming about it, but they’re doing good work. That’s why I want this raise.
Of course, we as managers have our own mental health and our own constant battle to fight above us that can take a toll on us. Just another example, you threw in, the differences between text strength, audio strength, video strength. I had someone who their work was, frankly writing was a part of it, writing public announcements that would be seen by a lot of people.
It’s a type of company that was dysfunctional in the sense that it had the problems that describe but the things that would get focused on would be so tiny. They would make an announcement in the forum, and there would be a typo in it. The CEO would notice, and the CEO wouldn’t notice other things that we were doing on the grander scale but would get a message about this typo. That’s stressful, if that’s the work environment, and it stinks. As their manager, I also want them to be successful in their role. It’s important to their career internally and externally.
What I would try to do is pair them with an editor. We had editors of the companies like I want you to work with this person, introduce them to one another. Let’s collaborate on the written text here. You write what you’re going to write, share it with them. I do this too. I have to send out 20 newsletters a month. This is my editor. I write things, and I share with them and they fix it. I have problems in all of my writing too. Just trying to pair people together based upon their strengths, I don’t know, it sounds so easy and simple and everyone says they do it, but they don’t. Then it becomes cookie-cutter and then people get disgruntled and you wonder why.
[00:33:07] Wesley Faulkner: Going full circle, mentioning about people who want to be a rock star and outgoing and that’s who they see our leaders, the focus is not on what they do but how they do it is one of the things that can really detract from finding the people who might come up with a different approach that still might be successful because you’re measuring the wrong thing.
When you’re in a community in a group, if you’re focusing on supporting that person, like giving them an editor because their mind thinks differently, maybe they’re seeing a different angle that if someone else wrote it, even though they might not have any typos, might not have seen it or being able to tell the story the way that really is relational to most people, but instead that they are focusing on just the typo, which can be fixed. There are a lot of tools for that. That story, you would lose that story and how it’s told if you weren’t supporting that individual employee to make sure that they were successful.
[00:34:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Maggie McGary, who’s a supporter of the show, wrote last month about working in the association space, association management, and community management is the same thing, and being neurodivergent herself. I’ll link to that piece in the show notes. I was talking to her as I was preparing for this episode with you and she wondered if you thought that neurodiverse people were uniquely suited to community management and if so, why?
[00:34:26] Wesley Faulkner: I’m going to say that any globalizing is flawed just in its assertions. With that said, there’s an over-index in terms of entrepreneurship with people who are neurodiverse because they’re able to set their own structure and boundaries. I think community even though there are some best practices, I think there is still a lot of green space to develop ways to communicate and to set up communities especially with new tools that are being designed and rolled out, especially during the pandemic that weren’t there before.
The structure is something that you can still massage and move, and I think being able to set up your rules so that they make sense for you and they do translate to other people, I think that is something that is one of the things that I think suits people who are neurodiverse to that type of medium. An example that someone else put in front of me is like, someone who struggled with their weight all their lives, it’s easy for them to be able to explain how to exercise and diet and to control your weight because that’s something they have to struggle with, as opposed to someone who was skinny all their life and think they could just live life as normal.
I think communication and conveying ideas and understanding different groups is a struggle of mine and a struggle that I’ve had to deal with, and I think being able to cope and to come up with these strategies for dealing for these disparate groups have allowed me to meld and empathize better with communities who may not be considered “the norm.” Which if you think about communities, those are some of the best communities when they’re satisfying a specific niche. For that reason, yes, I think they can be I think there might be an over-index, but I feel like that rule may not be totally universal.
[00:36:19] Patrick O’Keefe: It makes a lot of sense. For those who have listened to our show and would like to continue learning and reading about neurodiversity, do you have any resources that you would recommend?
[00:36:27] Wesley Faulkner: Oh, there is plenty of podcasts that focus on neurodiversity. Most of them are focused on different aspects like ADHD, dyslexia, and those types of specific named conditions. I also would generally say Brené Brown, it’s not about neurodiversity but more about empathy and vulnerability. I think those skills are universal, like any accessibility medium and I would recommend her.
She really can help you really see past some of the stigma and the shame that goes around with people and anxiety, and being able to overcome that and to relate to people, helps you extend past yourself in your own limitations that was put on by what are the rules, “rules” of society. I think to be a really good community manager, and for both people who are neurotypical and neurodiverse, I think she is one of my favorites.
There is another podcast that touches on different aspects of neurodiversity, and it’s called the Different Minds podcast. It’s out of UK and so they have different support systems and categorizations for things, but I think each episode, they focus on a different aspect of neurodiversity. One episode they have with the person who coined the term neurodivergent, neurodiversity, and I think that podcast is pretty amazing.
[00:37:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, that’s awesome, Wesley. Thank you so much. I’ve learned a bunch today and I’m sure that everyone listening has as well so I appreciate you making the time.
[00:37:54] Wesley Faulkner: Thank you for having me on and giving me a platform to help with my awareness work and make sure that most people know that we are among you all and we are related and we’re your parents, your kids, your aunts, uncles, and your community.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead.
Special thanks to Carrie Melissa Jones and Maggie McGary for their input into this episode. This is our final episode of 2020, so thanks for joining me as we got through this year together, and I’ll talk to you in 2021.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.