Two little incidents this week.
Went to a public meeting organised by a group that surely wants to believe itself welcoming and accessible. There was no written info about the group available, not even its website address. The only thing you could do was put down your email address on a list to be contacted later. The convenor of the meeting just launched straight in, without so much as a “thanks for coming, especially if you’re new.” After the speaker’s spiel I asked a question, which seemed well-enough regarded, and which drew an interesting response.
After the meeting finished we stayed in the pub to watch the end of a cricket match. We sat at a table literally half-way between two groups of “in” people close enough to hear both sets of conversations. Nobody so much as said hello, let alone invited us to join their table.
That’s ok, I guess. Maybe they were afraid of seeming pushy. Maybe both groups thought the other should be doing it. And as it so happened, we’re not “in the market” for getting involved, but they weren’t to know that… How many other potential supporters/activists have slipped through their fingers?
Lessons – convenors should explicitly welcome new people.
There should be up-to-date written info about your group, what it does, what things newbies would be doing, when it meets, where to get more info.
There should be someone specifically tasked with saying hello to new faces. Not pushy, not creepy, and it doesn’t have to be the same person every time.
Simples, really, but here we are in 2011, and it’s still not being done.
Second thing, but first in terms of “shock value” was the sarcastic email I just got from someone who had initially approached me to see if I’d write for their website. I had sent through a piece I’d written, with a covering message saying it probably was not appropriate. And several days later got back a really sarcastic email, not acknowledging that I had myself flagged the likely-unsuitability and suggesting I look around the site.
Lessons – sarcasm can be fun between two people who have history together.
Sarcasm is a real superiority claim. That can be okay. Sometimes people are just superior in what they’re doing. If Noam Chomsky were sarcastic about my efforts to understand US foreign policy, I’d happily take it on the chin. If Wayne Rooney did an ironic clap when I missed a bicycle kick, I’d shrug and smile sheepishly. But claims to superiority have to be based on something, and this case, I really don’t think it was (but more info would tend to identify blah de blah).
Sarcasm is a powerful decruitment tool.
Sarcasm is the sort of thing your employer can kind of get away with (though funnily enough most bullying and harassment policies – or “Dignity at Work” as it’s now called – explicitly mention continuous sarcasm as an example of belittling) because you have to pay the bank and the supermarket at the end of the week, so you smile and grit your teeth. But when it comes from someone who is not even paying you for your pearls of wisdom, and when you really aren’t interested in taking their shit for free, it’s easy to say TAKE THIS “JOB” AND SHOVE IT.
[There will be people reading this choking on their cornflakes as they read this post. “If anyone”, they’d say, “needs lecturing about decruitment, it is this Dwight Towers fraud.” Sometimes though, the pot is the best expert on blackness. Sometimes, only Nixon can go to China.]
UPDATE – This page, with advice about how to orientate potential new members, is well worth a read…
From someone on facebook
“Environmentalism? Doesn’t sound like a group very interesting in expansion at all, really. Maybe the public some lame effort to add a few soulmates to their personal coffee-table, based on criteria that noone knows. Anyway I’m surprised over how many politically “engaged” people have no social skill or interest, thus end up more like a discussion club rather than a real vehicle for outreach and change.”
Making change is tough. Much easier to say we want to make change and to talk about it at length…. but that’s understandable really. The world’s in a mess and where do you start?? But start we must, so the question is how to get people from the easy discussion to the more difficult action…
Sarcasm’s just one of the many tools in the extensive decruitment armoury. Other common ones include:
* jargon – it’s just another form of namedropping really, and equally as wearisome
* wearing a ‘uniform’ of one kind or another ( I was once told that if I was really an anarchist I should wear more black. Similarly I went to an activist gathering at which people were randomly walking around wearing climbing harnesses although there was nothing worth climbing for miles around…..it was almost ten tears before I went back again.)
Of course, this isn’t always about superiority. Sometimes it’s just plain thoughtlessness – not stopping to consider the diversity of people’s experience or expectations – or lack of experience. Sadly most of our experience of meetings and groups is of them being done badly. We just absorb the culture and regurgitate it unthinkingly when we set up a group or run a meeting. And sometimes it’s about inferiority. I so desperately want to be ‘in’ with the group that, ironically, I’ll act in a way that makes it more difficult for others to be ‘in’….
End result’s the same – people come and rarely come back for more.
The first step is to get people to understand that that’s most likely to be because of the group and not some external factor. Many groups are very quick to find external causes (particularly good TV that night, people of that demographic being busy with other time-consuming stuff etc etc). There may be an element of that, but my experience is that the cause of decruitment usually lies closer to home. The good news is that it can be fixed…..
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