Perception matters — make people feel heard

A man's arm holding a glass ball in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge is inverted inside the ball.

There’s a difference between listening to someone and them feeling heard. It’s important to keep this in mind when leading an open source project, because the long-term health of the community depends on people feeling heard. Making someone feel heard doesn’t mean doing whatever they want; it means they feel like they had the opportunity to give their opinion and that you’ve made a good faith effort to understand it.

Sometimes ensuring that your community feels heard means going out of your way. It might feel like a waste of time. It can be inefficient in the short term, but it’s an investment in the long-term health of the community.

For example, you might be tempted to re-vote on a rejected proposal without going through the community comment period again. But that can alienate the people who opposed it originally. Requiring a full re-submission of a rejected proposal is slower, but better for the long-term health of the community. Even though you’ve heard all of the arguments and collecting new (or repeated) input won’t change your mind, you’re letting people feel heard.

In addition, it improves perceptions. A vote that takes place in a meeting when folks don’t have time to find out feels secretive. It gives space to bad faith theories about how your community governance works. “Everyone who has a vote was in attendance” may be procedurally correct, but it’s not a great way to run a community project.

This post’s featured photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash.

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


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