Together Institute
Published in

Together Institute

Applying force in community doesn’t work

Yet subtle forms show up nevertheless. Why is that?

Photo by R.D. Smith

The other day I was talking to a community member who wanted to leave a group I co-host. I tried my best at convincing her that she should stay. I told her all the reasons why I think she could benefit from staying. I tried to understand her doubts and try to address them. We left the call with no clear outcome in mind, but overall I sensed that she had made up her mind and would leave anyways. And, I wondered: had I just tried to force her to stay?

Subtle forms of force

It seems obvious that force — making someone do something against their will — is a counterproductive approach in community weaving. While most community weavers aren’t trying to twist anyone’s arm, I find that subtle forms of force show up quite regularly. For example:

  • Persuasion: we’re trying to talk someone into taking a bigger role, taking on responsibility. Or we’re trying to talk them out of disengaging. “Come on, we need you!”
  • Emotional force, for example in the form of guilt and shame. “We wish we’d be seeing you more often, we miss you so much, it’s sad you’re never with us”, “I’d like you to take the lead on this, can I count on you?”
  • Bribes: “Hey I’ll give you 20% off your ticket if you come and join us for that gathering”. “Here is a learning grant to do something with others in the network”

Often the use of force is well intended and hard to distinguish from more positive qualities. Where exactly is the line between persuasion and encouragement? I sense the difference lies in our attitude towards the person we’re talking to. Are we trying to help them clarify their own reasoning or are we trying to push them towards our desired outcome?

We live in a world of relationships defined by domination

It’s not surprising that force creeps into our community behaviors. After all we operate in a society where the use of subtle force is quite prevalent and accepted, where many relationships are defined by domination, not partnership.

We spend much of our time in the professional context where people make you do things. Often in our professional environment we don’t choose whom to work with or what our priorities are. At school we learn to obey authority. Many of our leadership role models are based on command and control.

Why does force not work in community?

In contrast to many professional environments, healthy communities are environments where people show up by their own choice. They are there truly as free agents. When we use force, we not only ignore the reality that people can simply walk away, but we violate their sovereignty. We treat them not as peers and co-creators, but as consumers (or worse).

This leaves me with an open inquiry: What is community leadership if you can’t use force? How is strength different from force? I’m curious what you all think.

Related:

What do you think?

Have you experience the use of force in community? What did you learn from it? And what is leadership without force? I’d be grateful to read your comments and reactions, thank you!

Interested in getting regular community building insights in your inbox?

Every few weeks we send out a short email with 3–5 of our favorite insights, blog posts and articles about building meaningful communities. If you care about bringing people together, this might be for you. Sign up here.

Thank you

Thank you to my collaborator Erin Dixon for inspiring me to think about the sovereignty of people in community and paying attention to when that sovereignty is violated.

--

--

--

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations weave thriving communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about. https://www.together-institute.org/

Recommended from Medium

Lessons Learned: My First Job Out of College

The Secrets to Finding an Executive Position While Still Employed

How mentorship breeds inclusivity

Our Community told us all about the truths and lies about working from home !

5 Great Learnings From 2021!

The Origin of the Orchestrator

HOW I SURVIVED THE LOCKDOWN

Value of Agility in Turbulent Times

Waves of water of the river and the sea meet each other during high tide and low tide

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Fabian Pfortmüller

Fabian Pfortmüller

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in Amsterdam, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together-institute.org | together-institute.org

More from Medium

Weaving communities from the inside-out or from the outside-in?

The Regenerative Flip

Influencing organisational change

More than calories: a deep code transformation of our food systems