A Community is Like a Relationship

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Actually, communities are relationships. Lots of them, interconnected. So it’s a bit weird that we talk about building communities in terms of “management” rather than something that’s cultivated.

I just got married and have been with my wife for 10 years before that. Our relationship is something I’m really proud of because it wasn’t always easy, and we had to work hard for it.

We still have many years of learning ahead of us, but I think we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build a healthy relationship. And I see a lot of similarities between building an healthy relationship and building a community:

Consistent Investment: In a relationship, you might have an exciting first date, but if you want it to be anything more than a fling you have to keep showing up for each other. In communities, movements can form over night around an issue, or a successful event, but for the community to continue to exist, it needs sustained interactions and continued investment. A lot of communities are flings that don’t last.

Open Communication: Relationships are all about communication. You can’t keep your concerns to yourself. You need to maintain an understanding that it’s okay to share something even if you’re embarrassed, even if it might be hurtful, even if you don’t have the exact right words. Healthy communities are the same. Communicating constantly with your community members, being transparent, admitting mistakes, and creating an environment of non-judgement, is absolutely critical. Trust is built on communication.

Shared Struggles: Relationships ebb and flow over time. There will be times where everything feels perfect, and there will be times of struggle and doubt. Sometimes relationships are *really* hard. But if you can make it through those hard times, your relationship becomes much stronger as a result. Communities are the same. There will be conflict. The community fabric will be torn and tested. Resilient communities are ones that make it through those challenges, and as a result become stronger.

Feeling Seen: In all relationships, it’s critical that both people feel seen and heard. They have to feel significant in the eyes of the other person. When one person no longer feels valued by the other, all sorts of toxicity brews. Communities are the same. People join communities that make them feel seen and accepted. To belong is to be significant in the eyes of others. If your members start feeling like they aren’t valued, and their opinions don’t matter, you have a problem.

If you think about building community as a relationship with a good friend or a significant other, it can be a helpful guide for many of your decisions.

When considering sharing something that might not be well received, you can ask, “How would I say this to someone I love?”

When there’s conflict in your community, you can ask, “How would I handle this if someone I loved was angry?”

When the community feels stagnant, you can ask, “How can I get creative to bring energy back into the relationship?”.

In the cold, hard business world of dollars and cents, we don’t like to think about communities as the emotional, messy world of relationships. Yet, companies are constantly talking about how much they care about building a true community of customers, employees, and partners.

If you truly want to build a community, you should think less like a manager, and more like someone building a relationship.

Interested in community building? Find more articles and resources at cmxhub.com.