Community weaving is about creating (safe) excuses for people to connect
I have been living in Amsterdam for 2.5 years now and found it surprisingly hard to make friends and build my own local community. In New York, where I previously lived for 10+ years, my relationships were thriving. Community seemed to come so easily. There are surely many reasons why building relationships feels harder to me in Amsterdam than in NYC: two years of Covid; I’m in a different age group now; cultural differences.
And yet I think there is a major structural factor: in the first 7 years of living in NYC, I was actively building the local chapter of the Sandbox community. And so I had a role to play, which gave me good reasons to reach out to people and build relationships. It gave me an excuse to connect.
I believe not having that formal excuse makes it much harder for me to connect with people. Yes, even though I spend all my days working with communities.
It seems a bit childish to need an excuse to connect, doesn’t it? Why can’t I just build relationships and community out of my own doing? Because I’m a rather introverted person. Because I find approaching strangers scary. Because I find it easier to connect with people for a specific reason. Because I have underlying fears that people might reject me or that I might be bothering them. Because I find it easier to connect over a shared activity (as men tend to do, and why men’s social networks shrank even more during the pandemic).
It turns out that I’m not alone. A lot of people appreciate an excuse to connect with others. I regularly observe that in all kinds of community environments, for example at traditional conferences. Most conference content is super boring. I think many people don’t enjoy the presentations and panels. Yet it gives them a (poorly designed) reason to come together and connect. And funny enough, if you would invite them with an agenda focused only on connecting with people, many wouldn’t come. It wouldn’t be enough of an excuse. It wouldn’t feel psychologically safe. Excuses make connecting with others safer for people like myself.
What if the primary function of your community would be to create excuses for people to connect?
I honestly believe that an essential part of my role as community weaver is to create excuses. To give people external reasons that makes connecting easier, safer. To require less energy and courage of people to connect.
So many structural elements of a community are designed to help people connect: Having a shared purpose; a curated invitation process; any shared experience. Learning and collaboration is often just an excuse to connect. Roles — just as my role to build the local Sandbox chapter — are an amazing excuse to proactively connect with people. And there are also smaller ways how we can bring in excuses to connect, for example:
- Introducing two people who will be at the same event to each other weeks before the event.
- Creating a buddy system.
- Creating smaller sub-groups of 4–5 people.
- Randomly introducing people to another member once a month via email.
- Featuring one person in your newsletter a month.
- Using a tool like SuperHive.
I’m sure there are many other ways to create excuses for people to connect — what has worked for you?
A sincere thank you to all the community weavers who have created excuses that allowed me to connect more easily with others.
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