We don’t do that here: Setting social norms

I have long been a fan of social rules to make events more inclusive. Ever since I attended my first tech conference, I’ve seen the career-enhancing power of events, but they have never been equally accessible to all people.

As organizers we need to be working to improve the spaces that we are responsible for, and I’d like to share one powerful concept that can help.

A powerful tool for settings norms

I came across the concept of using We don’t do that here as a backstop for settings norms, and I’m thinking about how we can apply it at Write the Docs events. Here is a quote from the blog post where I heard this idea, so you can get a sense of the idea:

If no one has told you yet, as your career in tech progresses you will eventually become a “custodian of culture.” If you run a meetup or a team, if you lead an open source project, or if you organize an event people will be looking to you to know what is and isn’t okay in that space. You get this responsibility whether you want it or not. […]

When I’m able I’d much rather spend the time to educate someone about diversity and inclusion issues and see if I can change how they see the world a bit. But I don’t always have the time and energy to do that. And sometimes, even if I did have the time, the person involved doesn’t want to be educated.

This is when I pull out “we don’t do that here.” It is a conversation ender. If you are the newcomer and someone who has been around a long time says “we don’t do that here”, it is hard to argue. This sentence doesn’t push my morality on anyone. If they want to do whatever it is elsewhere, I’m not telling them not to.

Aja Hammerly, We don’t do that here

I really loved this framing, and it spoke to me directly as someone who is responsible for a conference.

The responsibility of a community leader

I’ve written in the past about the value of having people dedicated to setting culture at your events, most recently in The Importance of Being Welcoming. The most powerful way to set culture is by being a good, positive example. Our Welcome Wagon does a wonderful job of this, showing by example how to be a welcoming and open member of a community.

That said, you sometimes need to be able to shut down behavior as well. We don’t do that here is a powerful tool, when used by someone in a position of cultural power.

My first attempt at making a rule from this concept is:

As a person with a position of power, it’s your responsibility to enforce community standards. Start by setting a good example of how a community member should act, but We don’t do that here is a powerful tool for shutting down negative behavior.

We don’t do that here allows you to reinforce culture in a way that can’t be argued. However, it fully depends on your position of power, to set the norms of the community. Being able to use it effectively, the community needs to agree ahead of time on what the standards are. Deciding on a shared community vision for this can often be the hardest part.

You must define and enforce community standards if you wish to grow a healthy community. We don’t do this here is a powerful tool to keep, for the (hopefully) rare situation when you need it.


Aja’s post had a couple good examples. I’ll include one here, so you have a good understanding of how to use this in a social setting.

Them: Tells an off-color joke.
Me: “We don’t do that here.”
Them: “But I was trying to be funny.”
Me (shrugging): “That isn’t relevant. We don’t do that here.”

This is a wonderful example of being an ally, someone who speaks up to ensure that the space is more welcoming.

Read the full post for other examples.

Further reading

I found this concept originally in Chris Holdgraf’s FOSDEM 2023 report. Aja Hammerly’s blog post is where I learned more.

Have you found a useful rule or technique for making your events friendlier and more accessible? I’d love your suggestions on how to spread this idea more widely.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!