30 June 2010 ~ 2 Comments

An exercise in practising impartiality as a Community Manager

practise being a good community manager impartialFollowing the article The importance of maintaining impartiality during conflict resolution, I thought some of you would be thinking “That’s all very well saying to be impartial, but it’s not that bloody easy!” You’re right, it isn’t. So here’s a little exercise to allow you to practise impartiality and improve your ability to distance yourself from your own bias and preconceptions when approaching issues which need to be adjudicated on.

This little exercise helps to promote your self awareness, particularly in terms of how you see others and illustrates how this will affects your ability to remain impartial. I like to call it “Wine or beer drinker?” but you may have come across it before under different names.

Grab a partner

To practise, you need a partner, or you can turn it into a drinking game if you like, or a way to keep the kids occupied during long journeys. Pair up and ask each other questions, such as “What magazines do I read?”, “Do I drink beer or wine?”, “What’s my exercise routine?” or “What sort of films do I like?”. You could ask about politics and religion, but I don’t advise it as offence is easily caused when pursuing those topics.

Each person answers each question, but without discussing their answers, or whether they are correct or not.

Then you change partners and repeat the same process. Once you’ve been paired up with a few people if in a group, you can then discuss what answers came up during the exercise. The whole point is that people generally feel a bit awkward being asked to make snap judgments and then actually expressing them out loud.

Be warned that you may upset some friends or family with your answers, and you may feel aggrieved by their answers about you, but try to approach it with detached curiosity rather than take it personally. But this is actually an illustration of what we all do sub-consciously (or consciously!) when we talk with people. And we very rarely bother to ask them whether we are correct in our assessments of them or not, or give any thought as to whether they would upset them.

What’s the point?

The reason you have to be weary of stereotyping people in your mind is because, as Political Correctness shows us, what offends some people won’t always offend others. To top it off, making generalisations about what might offend people can be seen as patronising and come across as self-righteous, which is most certainly the opposite effect that you intended.

We like to think assuming what might offend other people and essentially speaking for them leads to mutual understanding, but actually it can often lead to resentment and move us further away from an easy and positive resolution. Upset community members don’t make our jobs easier, so it’s best to practise impartiality and avoid drawing conclusions without the full facts.

If we are questioned about our assumptions, we tend to feel attacked so react defensively and attempt to justify our views, which leads to distance and seperation during conflict resolution. However, if we are aware we are second-guessing our participants’ motives, we can “revise” our opinions which creates an opportunity for closeness and connection.

Condemning behaviour rarely results in a positive outcome; challenging with an open mind is the way to progress through friction between community members.

Have you tried this exercise out? How did it work out for you? Do you know of any other great exercises to practise being impartial?

[photo by mikebaird]

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  • http://zaneology.com zaneology

    The most “efficient” way to view anything so that guttural responses are kept at bay is to remember, remind & buy into this mantra continually: “There is no reality – only personal perception and opinion.”


  • http://blaisegv.com/ Blaise Grimes-Viort

    That's a whole other blog post :) Thanks for your comment Zane!