July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

Cultivating Community

Written by Cultivating Community

August 11, 2017

Alright, I'm gonna tell you two things that are pretty personal. Well, one that's personal and one that's just fun that are about me. And as Stevie said, the first thing is that I stutter. And the other thing is that I love, I love ... I love Twitter. The main reason why I love it is because it has forced me to really be connected to the people in in in in in in in in in the world. And it also forced me to really care to care about current events. Now, being that I'm from Chicago and I live in Pittsburgh. I know, it's a great place, right? Current events are kind of really bad right now in Chicago and Pittsburgh and just all over the the States, and so I love Twitter, because I get to be happy with things like this.

[Audience] Aww!

Adorable puppies. It's also really hilarious. I with I was that funny. Hold on, I've got another reason why I love Twitter. So, I go on Twitter for current events. The current events really are just pretty awful right now, and so, I view things like this and I just get really happy about, you know, just things in the world. However, the biggest reason why I love it is because it's a community. And it's a community I found during a time where I was in desperate need of of of belonging. So, I stutter. And this is me, I'm around three years old, and I know, I know, I'm adorable.

And ... And so this was when I began to start stuttering, which was kind of normal. Kids around this age have some sort of speech impediment and my parents stuttered. They both did until they were around teenage years. My brother stuttered. I think he was around 10 years old when it just kind of went away, and so people weren't all that concerned about it, because they just assumed that I would grow out of it. And so I'm 33 now and I'm still waiting to grow some more out of it, and it's not exactly happening yet.

The ... The really cool thing about stuttering though is that it forced me to to build relationships from a place of of of.. Vulnerability. So for me, you know just just talking to people is a very kind of terrifying prospect, right? Like I don't sound like you guys do, and so I know that I'm gonna come off as weird, right? A lot of stutterers have a very difficult time just saying their name. And so it's really just like, "Hi, I'm Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh ..." And people are like, "Why don't you know your name? "Are you on drugs?" Like it's a very like weird interaction to have.

And so ... And so growing up people treat you like you are very different, and you're and you're different in a pretty like bad way. And so as a stutterer you come to a point where just the act of speaking is is a courageous act, and it takes you pushing past being afraid, and pushing past being vulnerable. So, I came to a point where I was pretty terrified to talk to people, because, you know, weird. And ... And, and ... And ... And it was really kind of like tearing part just my experience of life, right?

And so I knew that I was going to have to face this fear of of talking to people. So, I decided to pursue public speaking, and I know, that sounds completely insane, right? Like I'm afraid to talk to people, so I'm going to get on stage and talk to 300 people. I don't know, it made sense way back when I decided to do it. And so the thing I learned though was that when I did speak I was able to build very powerful relationships as a result of just being vulnerable, as a result of just being insecure and just being very very talkative concerning that insecurity. So, I was able to really cultivate communities through being vulnerable.

So, I want to talk about the concept of community, because it's a very important one, right? We are all a part of several different communities, right? So, a community is a social unit, and it's small, or it's big, or it's somewhere in between, where the people they all have something in common, whether its their value systems, or it's their their their religion, or something else, right? They all have a thread that binds them together. Now great communities though are based off of more than just commonalities. So great communities are going to keep you connected to the people both, you know, in your community and the people that are that are outside your community. They are gonna really encourage you to care about people in, you know, inside of your community, as well as outside of your community, and they are gonna give you a better perspective and keep you very grounded.

So, the bad news is though is that, you know, you know, the communities that we are a part of aren't all great communities. And, you know, sometimes people just don't feel like being kind, or feel like being patient or feel like being invested. So, how do you combat that? How do you combat it when you are trying to build a great community and and and and the people surrounding you don't don't try to do the same thing? Well, you do that with empathy. Now, the foundation of all great communities is going to be empathy. So, there are three different types of communities. There's the one that you're born into, so that's like your family. There is the community that you go out into the world and you pick for for for for yourself. So, those are your friends and your social circle. And then there's your community that you have to deal with professionally, right?

So, those are the people that are on your teams, so your coworkers, your bosses, it's those people. And so that community that you have there, like that's kind of a combination of you picking those people because you are picking the community, you are picking the profession, you're picking the type of work that you do. However, you aren't picking those people that you have to do those things with every single day for two years or or or three years, or, you know, yeah. And so the type of community of what I'm gonna talk about today is that community that you have at work. And so that community is pretty challenging, because you, because because it's going to be a lot more difficult to to have the empathy that you need to build a great community with those people there, because people on teams they're all different. Your coworkers are from different backgrounds. They come from different cities and countries. They don't have the same passions as you. They don't have the same friends as you.

And so it's very difficult to be patient and and to have empathy for people that you don't, you know, always get along with, and that and that and that you don't always agree with. And so the problem there is that, you know, great communities are based on on on on on on that empathy. So, if you guys do have a great community, then you are gonna be able to build better products and be better customer servants. So, so so so so so you need to build the empathy even if you think it's impossible to do so. Well, how do you do that? We'll talk about like what empathy is in order to define the things that you have to do in order to build it there.

So, the thing about empathy is that it is a thing, right? It's a noun, and it's defined as the, well as sharing the feelings of another person. The problem is that that definition it doesn't really tell you what it takes to to to be empathetic. So, that's why I say that empathy is a thing that you pursue every single day, right? So, every single interaction with a person you are trying to to to truly share their feelings and see their views from their perspective.

So ... There are two actions that are the most impactful, and that is the way we speak to people and the way we listen to people. So those two things I'm going to talk about more in a second, but first I want to kind of talk about the ways that you can convince people that that this is an important thing to really invest their their time into. So, the way that you tell like your boss or your coworkers that this is important is by telling them that it's about them. So, you have to kind of entice them with the idea of culture, right? This is going to really improve the culture of the group.

But, the problem with culture is that we don't really invest in in the the type of culture that is going to improve behaviors, right? We focus on things like like like, I don't know why examples are escaping me right now, oh like having hee-bee-r in the fridge all day, or having like really expensive coffee all day every day, catering, breakfast, and dinners. Those things are great, but that's not culture. Those things are perks. Now, perks, you know, they make certain things about being at work significantly more fun, right? I mean coffee is great, beer is great. This is fun. This is a perk. However, perks don't combat bad behaviors. They don't make the day to day experience of of collaboration better.

Culture is, you know, is is the thing that gets people, you know, like in in the door, and it gets people excited on the front end. The problem there is that it's also the reason why people are gone when things get rough. So, when you are trying to convince people that being a better a a a a better empath is important to culture, the thing that you're actually talking about is community. So, communities are going to be the better focus here, because they encourage things like diversity of of thoughts. They are inclusive, and they thrive on on on on on ... They thrive on empowering people to think differently. So, if the emphasis is on community, then culture is going to take care of itself. And and and customers can tell if you have a dysfunctional community, right? They can tell if you have a an exceptional one, as well. And so great communities are going to create exceptional cultures. So ... So ... The way to do that it goes back to to the things I talked about earlier, and that's communicating with ... Communicating with empathy. So ... So before

I said that there are two like very impactful things that you can do, so that's speaking and and paying attention. So, the first thing that I'm gonna talk about is speaking to people. And so, and so ... So, the way I'm gonna do this is to just tell you a story. So, back in 2004ish, I was working at a.. Okay, hold on. I just have to say that today is a particularly difficult day in terms of talking, so please bear with me. I am very frustrated, even though I'm really happy to be here. So thanks for being patient. Alright, so again, this is back in 2004. I was working at a newspaper, and I was a ... I worked with pretty much the entire place. So ... So, I was the liaison between like the design department and then the sales and the the content staff. And so ... So, if there was ever any sort of physical problem, like with the with the paper, it came to me first.

And so the issues that people had were things like technical problems on the computers, because 2004 was a time when, you know, like people they were on computers, but it wasn't ... The way it is now. And so so these technical problems people would bring them to me first. And then there was one technical person there, and so then those problems would go to him. And so since I was the one who like really got the entire process, generally the person who was going to go to the one technology guy was me. And so so the times I would bring him these problems I would say like, "Hey, there's an issue happening here. "Can you help me?"

And so the first thing he would say was, "Well, did you unplug it?" However, the way he would say it though was so like, "Did you restart? Did you do anything? Are you blah?" And so I used to get like very bothered by this, right, because this is his job, right? And so I'm coming to him with a thing that's his job, and he's just like, "I don't want to do this job." And so, you know-- Every single time I'd be like, "Hey, I'm having this issue." And he'd be like, "Did you unplug it?" "Okay, no fine. "Hey, I'm having "this other issue." "Okay, did you unplug it?" "No."

And so this went on for, I don't know, probably six months, and then I finally came to a point where ... I was probably having like a a a a a a pretty bad day, and so I was not there for him being like, "Did you blah?" because I was like, "No, I need to get this thing done. I'm on a deadline. I need the help that you can offer." And so I came to him and I was pretty like, "Uh, help me, help me!" And so I said, "Okay look, here is the problem I'm having. Here is the ... Here is ... Here is the error message that comes up. I turned it off. I turned it on again. I did the same thing. And then I went to a different computer and I did that entire process again, and so it still didn't work. Can you help me?" And he said, "Yeah, sure."

And then he ... Then he goes over to my computer, and then he explained to me every single that was wrong. He, you know, like helped me through the process. He was very pleasant. And I was like, Wow, he must be having like a really awesome day, or like he's changed. He understands now that he has a job to do and now he's gonna start doing it, right? So, I'm thinking all of these things that it's about him. He's changed, he's changed, he's changed. And then it dawned on me like no, he didn't change. I was the one who changed, right? How I approached him I spoke to him in the words that he, you know, like that he had to hear in order to best embrace for things that I was trying to say, right?

So, when you approach people, instead of thinking about the things that you are trying to say and the way that you are trying to come across, think about them, right? Because if they can't truly embrace the things that you are trying to communicate to them, then the conversation is just going to fail. So, the other way that you can communicate with empathy is by listening. So stutterers, we ... There's actually a conference that happens every year. My partner calls it StutterCon, which I really don't like. It actually very much annoys me, but whatever.

And so it's put on by the National Stuttering Association. So, I don't know if you guys caught that, the NSA. And so it happens every year. And the first time I went was in 2014, so three years ago. And I was pretty intimidated by the entire thing. I had never like really been around a thousand other people who stuttered or like like really understood the whole process of it, right? And so yeah, like I ... I was there for five days.

And so on the fourth day is when they have the closing session. And so there's like seven or not, no ... Probably like 1,000 people, right, like in this one room. And so they bring up a couple of first timers, and then they talk about their experience there. So, they brought up like a five year old, and he's like, "I made friends who stutter, yay!" And we were like, "Good for you!" And then they brought up like a teenager, which teenagers. Then they brought up this parent. So ... This man his his his his daughter was around 15, and she was a stutterer.

And so he came up and it was actually like both really funny and also a like a little bit insulting, because the first thing he said was, "I didn't want to come here." So, imagine like being there with all of these people who were just like you and who were on your team, and to have a person come up and say, "I did not want to come here." Like these are crazy people who are like, "I love that stutter. It's like the greatest gift." It's those kinds of people at this event. I'm not one of them, obviously. And so this man he comes up and the first thing out of his mouth is like, "I did not want to come here, because I didn't understand why it was valuable." Like this is a thing that's just not ever gonna go away for her, and fine, right?

And so then he kept talking and he said, "Well, I decided that I'm just gonna go to the talks and and and and and, blah, and, blah. And I'm not gonna say anything, right? Like I'm just gonna be a a a a a fly on on on on, blah, on on on on the wall." And then he said, "So, I went to "pretty much every parent talk, and then I talked to so many people here, and I can say that this has actually changed the way I view her experience," right? And he said that he was so happy that he came, because he was able to really pay attention, right? He was able to hear so many stories of like of of of of of of the experiences of people who stutter and and and and people who are are trying to, you know, like empower stutterers.

And and then he said that that that that that this was the first time that he really paid attention, right, that he like heard the words that people were saying like past the speech impediment. And and and and and the thing about that that I thought was so powerful was the he turned listening into a a a a a a a verb, right? Like he heard every single word that people said and and and, aah, and he internalized them. And in turn the the perspective that he gained and the experience that he got was invaluable.

So, with listening that's just as important as speaking, right? It is a part of the conversation where you are still very much involved in it, except you're just paying attention to what the other person has to say. So, if you think back to your most successful conversations or your most enjoyable interactions, I'd be willing to bet that the reason why they were so good was because the other person was very thoughtful in their in their responses, and that just comes from really paying attention.

So, when you invest in communicating with empathy in your community at work, you are investing in building very powerful relationships with your your teammates. And because this is a community, your investment in in in building that is going to, you know, is is is going to to to improve the entire community as as uh, as, as, woo, as, as a whole. And and and and because you are investing in people and in the community, you are going to see that there are no small insignificant jobs, right? Every single person there like brings something to the table that only they can bring. You know ... And you know investing in cultivating community and building those powerful relationships is also going to empower your teammates at work.

And then as a result, collaboration is going to improve. Powerful communities are also going to be very inclusive and very diverse. And and by diverse I mean a diversity of thought, a a diversity of ideas, right? So ... The way that you do this is by communicating with empathy, right? So, that comes back to speaking to people in in in in in in, aah, in in the way that they can, you know, like really embrace, and really paying attention to to to the things that people say. And then finally it's tapping into that vulnerability that I talked about at the beginning.

Stuttering is probably the ... It is ... It is a very challenging part of just my experience. However, because of stuttering and the perspective I have, I'm able to help be a a a better part of the community. So, cultivating communities it just comes down to to to to just caring about the people on your team, and that is is is the foundation of just of just being a a a better empath. Thank you.