As a leader of a community-driven documentation project such as that which we have on the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) wiki, part of my job is to help build that sense of community while at the same time trying to make sure that things get done. This can be a tricky balancing act, especially since I go into things with my own ideas of how I think things should be done, and I’m certainly not always right.
For that reason, it’s sometimes a useful exercise to not get involved in debates and discussions about ideas. At times, I try to simply observe and see where the conversation goes. I let the conversation run its course, then jump in until the discussion reaches one of its typical end points:
- A consensus is reached. This happens pretty often, and is the best possible outcome of any conversation. If consensus is reached, I hop in and help to ensure that the idea gets implemented (which sometimes starts a whole new discussion about whose job it is to actually take on the decided-upon course of action).
- The conversation peters out with no decision. This is also pretty common. If the conversation fades away, sometimes it’s for the best — whatever was being discussed just isn’t that important, or nobody feels like championing it, so it may as well be left alone for the time being. Other times, I’ll step in and give things a nudge to see if I can get the discussion going again.
- The discussion devolves into argument. In our community, at least, this doesn’t happen all that often. When it does, I wade in and try to soothe people’s raw nerves and change the tone of the conversation. I can only think of maybe one or two times this has been necessary, though.
It can be incredibly educational to simply follow along while your community thinks out loud. By keeping your biases out of the way, a lot of great things can happen; often ideas come up that you would never have thought of. In addition, it lets your community members exchange ideas more freely, and can help build their sense of belonging. Certainly it helps them feel more confident that you’re not dictating how things should be done!
Silence isn’t always the best policy, but sometimes it’s a useful tool. Used properly, it can help your community become stronger.