Huw Thomas & Darius Meissner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Throughout this document, “us/we” refers to EA Oxford. A lot of the content and thinking behind this document is based on a similar write-up by James Aung.
This document aims to give some tips on running 1-1 meetings with members of your local EA community, based on our experience with running these over the last year and a half in Oxford. It also aims to motivate other group leaders to start experimenting with running 1-1s in their local community.
The main aims of a 1-1 are:
- Information: In-person conversations are a high fidelity way of communicating about the ideas of Effective Altruism. Speaking in-person and with feedback allows you to communicate with nuance, and to address individual concerns as they arise, which prevents people from stewing in confusion.
- Motivation: 1-1s can help increase the other person’s excitement and motivation about doing good effectively. This often comes naturally from just chatting to someone who is excited about these ideas, and who believes in and emphasises the attendee’s ability to improve the world. It also gives you an opportunity to talk through any personal issues someone has relating to EA: for instance, talking through difficult aspects of interacting with the community, trying to work through feelings of guilt, and helping to emphasise the importance of self-care when necessary.
- Community: 1-1s help to integrate the person into the local EA community and broader EA network. Anecdotally, people are far more likely to attend community events if they have personal bonds with other community members, and a 1-1 provides an excellent entry point.
- Signposting: It is sometimes difficult to know what is best to read next when engaging with EA. 1-1s are an opportunity to gauge how far someone has engaged with EA material previously, and direct them to the resources that will be most useful to them. Getting to know someone on an individual level also means that you can tailor resources to their interests.
- Support: Getting to know someone in a 1-1 allows for specific, targeted support of the other person through the local EA community – connecting them to relevant people, inviting them to relevant events and so on.
- Recruiting: Knowing people in your community on a personal level helps with finding good candidates for community projects or committee roles.
- Skill-Building: Running 1-1s teaches you to communicate complicated ideas clearly, and helps to improve your social skills.
We tend to find people for 1-1s in pretty standard ways: e.g. through events, Facebook and mailing lists. Here are some ways that we have had success acquiring leads for 1-1s:
- Including a box to indicate interest in a 1-1 chat on feedback or event sign-up forms
- Handing out interest forms during speaker events, or sending out links by email
- Asking people in person at an event (remember that you may have no way of contacting someone who seems interested after they leave the event)
- Newcomers socials. Sometimes we just ask people for a 1-1 during the event. We also let people borrow books, and then we get in contact the next term and organise a follow-up to discuss the book
If you have less time for 1-1s, you might want to prioritise people who seem most promising, for example by only asking people who pick up books at events for a chat, rather than asking most people. Filter more or less depending on your capacity.
Reaching Out Continuously
Don’t forget to also proactively reach out to current members of your community. Indeed, given that it’s more important to get some people all of the way through the funnel than to get everyone to the next stage of the funnel, you should generally prioritise meeting with people who you know are already engaged. Deciding exactly who the “current members of your community” are is tricky, but attendance at events and knowledge about EA are useful heuristics. We tend to err on the side of reaching out to more people, as we have the capacity to do so.
Hopefully, you’ll know most of your community through 1-1s and other introductory events. To reach out just shoot them a quick message, either by email or, preferably, by Facebook and ask if they’d like to meet for coffee or a walk to talk about EA. We tend to do this about 3 times per year per person (once per term), though we’ll reach out more often – e.g. 6 times a year – if someone appears to be attending events frequently and is keen to learn more about EA in their spare time.
This is the first 1-1 that someone will have with a member of your group. When people attend Newcomers socials and similar events, a big part of their first impression of Effective Altruism will be determined by the other attendees. One of our overarching motivations for running intro 1-1s is that it allows you to reduce the noise in introducing people to Effective Altruism. With an intro 1-1, you can have a face-to-face conversation, provide tailored reading material and make an effort to be a good representative of the community. This decreases the likelihood that the person will be put off by the community as they just begin to engage with the ideas, which is a common failure mode.
Be enthusiastic and show a genuine interest in the attendee. Don’t ‘attack’ the other person’s views, don’t try to ‘win’ arguments, and be especially considerate. Most of the time, you can just chat about what comes up naturally. Keep in mind that in an intro 1-1, you will be the main point of contact with the EA community for the other person, and you will be perceived as a representative of EA as a whole.
- Offer a friendly, welcoming face
- Help them figure out the EA content that is most relevant for them
- Help them figure out the most relevant events for them
- Correct any misconceptions they have about EA, and talk through any objections they bring up (it’s probably worth reading through the above two links and trying to rephrase in your own words anything that you wouldn’t already feel confident discussing with someone.)
Good Questions to Keep the Conversation Flowing or Related to EA:
- What degree are you doing?/Where do you work?
- How did you find out about EA?
- (If they have previously borrowed a book at an event): How did you find the book?
- Have you been to any of our events before? (Naturally lets you segue into a discussion about the events offered in your community)
- Is there anything about EA that you’ve learnt about so far that particularly interests you? (Good way of getting into a chat about resources so you can recommend relevant stuff)
- Have you thought much about which global problems are the most pressing to work on? (Idea is that a brief discussion about cause prio at this point gives you a chance to emphasise its importance)
I recommend over-preparing (e.g. running through the above) beforehand and spending a little time thinking about how each 1-1 could have been improved afterwards at least for your first 5-10 conversations (though I try do this consistently). Running 1-1s is a skill, and being very purposeful about trying to improve will speed up the learning process. See deliberate performance in people management for more context, and ideas on how to do this.
These are for people who have already had an intro 1-1, attended a workshop or discussion group, or been involved in Effective Altruism in some other way. Frame these 1-1s to yourself as a way of reducing friction for people on their path to becoming more engaged EAs: identifying arguments and considerations that they haven’t engaged with yet, giving them the affordance to discuss their problems with EA or their current feelings on cause prioritisation, and acting as a commitment mechanism to help them with whatever they most need to do next to develop, such as reading a specific article or book. These conversations will be somewhat more directed and purposeful than intro 1-1s, and you should spend a little time beforehand reflecting on your goal for the conversation. Do be careful about lecturing at people and pushing ideas – it’s preferable to develop a toolkit of questions that encourage people to explore and engage further.
- Figure out how much they’ve engaged with EA so far, and identify the most relevant EA resources for them to read next (cause prioritisation in particular).
- Act as a commitment mechanism for engaging with the relevant resources
- Encourage them to attend EA events (for developing knowledge & increasing engagement with the community).
- (In certain cases): Give some feedback and advice with regards to career plans.
- Be friendly and welcoming.
- Get feedback on the community, e.g. the atmosphere, type of events, ways to improve.
Discussing Cause Prioritisation
This section of the 80,000 Hours career guide and the articles it links to, argue that cause prioritisation could decide 99% of one’s impact - because some problem areas are 100 or 1,000 times more pressing than those that people often focus on - though see Charity Cost-Effectiveness in an Uncertain World for a counterargument. Regardless, it seems that cause prioritisation could determine a large amount of an individual's overall impact. It also becomes more difficult and painful to change our beliefs when we’ve made plans that are based on them. This is why we think it is important for people to think about cause prioritisation first, as the cornerstone of all their other EA-related decisions.
We don’t think people should somehow work out what the biggest problem in the world is entirely for themselves: We expect people to need to defer to experts about certain issues, especially empirical ones. Our aim is to get a feeling of how sophisticated their cause prioritisation models are, to identify which important ideas they haven’t heard yet, and which arguments for and against these ideas they haven’t engaged with yet, and then to nudge them towards thinking about these arguments and ideas, and to follow up with relevant resources.
To do this, we use our toolkit of questions. When we ask questions like “have you thought about cause prioritisation”, people can avoid properly engaging, and simply answer “yes”. Instead, we generally prefer asking open-ended questions, which actually make people engage their models and explain their understanding of a concept - this allows us to jump in to correct misunderstandings, or to socratically nudge them to consider alternative points of view. Some example questions are included below. We generally then have a good sense of which arguments they haven’t yet engaged with, and we've opened the door for them to begin thinking about them. We’ll then send over some resources afterwards to help them engage with these ideas. Your group might also have specific events that are particularly well suited for learning about cause prioritisation that you could direct people to.
Of course, doing this well is reasonably dependent on your having engaged with these resources yourself a lot too - you need to be able to talk confidently about their content, and be able to spot which resources will be most relevant for the person. At the bottom of the page we’ve listed some of the most important articles to understand and to direct people to, but there’s no substitute for spending a lot of your own time reading about EA, keeping up with forum posts and with 80,000 Hours Podcasts.
Most people will at this stage be on-board with arguments in favour of prioritising cost-effective global health interventions, though sometimes there are issues that people still want to discuss, such as whether these interventions neglect systemic change. More common sticking points include the extent to which they have engaged with arguments about prioritising animal welfare or the long-term future. You may also want to discuss specific interventions within causes, for example, why we should be worried about synthetically engineered pathogens, or more specifically, why we need some people to specialise in policy within this space.
It’s important to become comfortable with challenging beliefs – asking people for their reasoning, and offering alternative viewpoints. Of course, there is a fine line between challenging beliefs and coming across as confrontational. Sticking with asking questions - rather than stating bluntly when you disagree or arguing for specific viewpoints - tends to work best. Generally, just make sure that you show respect to different opinions, and don’t act like you have all the answers.
- How can I / [your EA group] help you have more impact?
- Is there anything that you’re stuck on that I can help you with?
- Is there anything related to EA that you’ve learnt about so far that particularly interests you?
- What are the most important next steps you think you need to take for learning about EA? (Aim to be a commitment mechanism: for example, if they think they need to read Nick Beckstead’s thesis, you could offer to meet them in a few weeks to discuss it)
- Do you have any suggestions for what steps we could take to improve the EA Oxford community? Which kinds of events would you find most valuable?
- What are you thinking of doing after you graduate? (We generally don’t bring career choice up ourselves in mentor 1-1s, though we might if we get the sense that the person has done a fair amount of thinking about cause prioritisation already)
Inquiring into cause prioritisation:
- Which problems do you think are most urgent for humanity to solve at the moment? Why?
- Why do you think we should prioritise problem X over problem Y?
- How do you think we should weigh human life and well-being against the lives and well-being of non-human animals?
- How important is it that we work on issues that will affect people who are alive today, rather than people who aren’t born yet?
We believe a significant part of the value from all of our events comes from encouraging people to engage with high-fidelity EA resources (in particular books!) in their own time. Giving out a book on an important EA topic, perhaps one you spoke about during the 1-1 (and suggesting that you meet to discuss it at some point in the future) could determine a lot of the impact of your 1-1.
We usually offer people the opportunity to ‘borrow a book from EA Oxford’. This provides us with a nice opportunity to follow up with them after a couple of months and save some money on books. However, we ultimately don’t care a lot about getting the books back, as the expected value per book recipient seems to far outweigh the cost of the book.
We tend to offer people one of the following books (depending on circumstances):
- Doing Good Better (Prof. William MacAskill)
- 80,000 Hours Career Guide (Ben Todd & 80,000 Hours)
- Superintelligence (Prof. Nick Bostrom)
- Animal Liberation (Prof. Peter Singer)
- Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman) (to help more experienced EAs skill up)
- Superforecasting (Prof. Philip Tetlock) (to help more experienced EAs skill up)
After an intro 1-1, the content we send out is usually pretty standardised, though we may send out one article relevant to what was discussed. After a mentor 1-1, we make an effort to think of the articles that would be most useful to the person we spoke with. We may send articles based on what we discussed, what articles seem relevant to their subject or career path, or simply what articles we believe they would find interesting. Remember that as well as furthering their interests, the follow-up is in part about challenging them. If they indicate interest in a cause area, you might want to send both a relevant piece on this area and a piece on another high-impact area, and explain in the follow-up message that we like to encourage people to explore, and to challenge their beliefs.
In the past, we have reached out to people potentially interested in 1-1s via either Facebook or Email. Emails signal formality a little more, so Facebook can be preferable if you've already spoken to someone a few times, but e.g. if you are worried about coming across as asking for a date, emails are a good recourse.
Aim to schedule 1-1s efficiently (e.g. in offering 1-1s, clearly suggest potential precise times and locations to reduce back-and-forth messaging), this will save you and the other person time. In case you’re running many 1-1s or find scheduling very stressful, consider signing up for and using Calendly (https://calendly.com/), an online service that lets other people book meetings with you.
Experiment with different lengths: generally, we have found that 30 minutes is enough for an intro 1-1, but mentor 1-1s can often take 60 minutes, or in some cases there is scope for chatting even longer. If you’re running a lot of 1-1s, we have found it helpful to try and schedule several back to back, to save time walking to and from a location. Doing this means you have to keep an eye on the time, and let the other person know how much time you have at the beginning.
Intro 1-1s Example Message
How's it going? I'm Y and I'm part of the Effective Altruism [your group] committee – just a quick email to ask if you'd like to grab coffee or go for a walk sometime soon, to chat about Effective Altruism, the EA [your group] community, or anything else!
[Say which times you're available - maybe link your FB profile so that they can contact you quickly on the day - if you’re organising a lot of 1-1s, we’ve found that offering a specific time and then linking to our Calendly account for them to book in a time works well]
Mentor 1-1s Example Message
How's it going? I'm Y and I'm part of the Effective Altruism [your group] committee - was wondering if you’d be keen to grab coffee [or go for a walk] sometime soon, to chat about EA, cause prioritisation, career goals or anything else!
[Say which times you're available, and/or link Calendly. You might want to change this up somewhat if you already know the person]
Common Resources to Send People After a 1-1
- EA Introduction:
- Introduction to Effective Altruism: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/
- William MacAskill’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/will_macaskill_how_can_we_do_the_most_good_for_the_world
- Prospecting for Gold, Owen Cotton-Barratt: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/prospecting-for-gold-owen-cotton-barratt
- CEA’s List of Effective Altruism Resources: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/resources/
- Advanced Content Relevant to EA:
- Crucial Considerations & Wise Philanthropy: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/crucial-considerations-and-wise-philanthropy-nick-bostrom/
- The Moral Value of Information: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/the-moral-value-of-information-amanda-askell/
- Epistemic Modesty: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1g7/in_defence_of_epistemic_modesty/
- Career Choice:
- 80,000 Hours career guide: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/
- 80,000 Hours Podcast: https://80000hours.org/podcast/ (consider recommending and sending your 1-1 people individual podcast episodes on relevant topics. Anecdotally, several people have reported to us that Toby Ord’s podcast on the long-term future was a game changer for them)
- Cause Areas:
- Global Health & International Development:
- CEA’s cause profile on global health: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/cause-profile-global-health-and-development/
- The book ‘Poor Economics’: https://amazon.co.uk/Poor-Economics-Barefoot-Hedge-fund-Surprising/dp/0718193660/
- Animal Welfare:
- CEA’s cause profile on animal welfare: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/cause-profile-animal-welfare/
- Arguments against speciesism: http://www.animal-ethics.org/ethics-animals-section/speciesism/
- Why effective donations are more important for animals than dietary choices: https://sentience-politics.org/effective-donation
- How much suffering is caused by different animal foods (the case for reducing eggs, over reducing milk): https://reducing-suffering.org/how-much-direct-suffering-is-caused-by-various-animal-foods/
- Wild Animal Suffering (WAS):
- This fantastic 60-minute introductory talk: https://youtu.be/4aa6g1y4l8I
- The importance of wild animal suffering: https://foundational-research.org/the-importance-of-wild-animal-suffering/
- Existential Risks & Trajectory Change:
- CEA’s Long-run Future cause profile: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/cause-profile-long-run-future/
- 80,000 Hours’ article on the ‘Long-term value thesis’: https://80000hours.org/articles/future-generations/
- Nick Beckstead’s article ‘A Proposed Adjustment to the Astronomical Waste Argument’
- 80,000 Hours’ article on existential risks: https://80000hours.org/articles/extinction-risk/
- 80,000 Hours’ problem profile on AI safety: https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/positively-shaping-artificial-intelligence/
- 80,000 Hours’ problem profile on risks from biotechnology: https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/biosecurity/
- Foundational Research Institute’s “Reducing risks of astronomical suffering” https://foundational-research.org/reducing-risks-of-astronomical-suffering-a-neglected-priority/
- 80,000 Hours’ problem profile on ‘Promoting Effective Altruism’: https://80000hours.org/problem-profiles/promoting-effective-altruism/
- REG’s article on Meta-Charities: https://reg-charity.org/meta-charities/
- Overcoming Mental Uncertainty & Dealing With Feelings of Guilt
Thanks, this seems like a really useful guide!
One thing I find important in conversations, particularly if I'm doing them back to back, is writing down action points (eg people I want to introduce them to) as I go. People sometimes think it's rude to do this on a phone, so probably having a note book with you is the best approach.
Something I struggle with is making sure that I build up enough rapport with a person fast that they will feel comfortable pushing back on things, and in particular bringing up more socially awkward considerations (eg I've heard that effective altruists don't think it's particularly impactful to get a job doing x but I've been working towards that goal for years, and hate the idea of never getting to do it). I've found it pretty useful watching other people who are really good at getting on with people meet new people, and seeing what they do that makes people feel quickly at ease. Because I know this is a weak spot of mine, I try after some of my 1-1 conversations to think through whether there was anything in particular that went well/badly on this dimension (I waited a while for them to respond after saying y, rather than bulldozering on...; when I pushed back on z I accidentally got into 'philosophy debate' mode rather than friendly discussion mode). I also find reading books that get me to think through these kinds of dynamics useful: I've found 'Charisma Myth' useful enough to have read it a couple of times, and right now I'm reading 'Never Split the Difference'. (A lot of these kinds of books sound like they'll be about getting your own way and persuading people into things they don't want to do, but they actually spend most of their time on how to make sure you properly hear and understand the person you're talking to, and help them feel at ease.)
I second the recommendation of "The Charisma Myth". It's the best book I've ever read on social skills, and on a page-for-page basis is up there with the best blog posts I've read on that topic (which is remarkable, considering its length).
Thanks both for the info - would be interested in links to the best blog posts you've read on the topic too!
Huw, Darius, excellent post!
What are your go-to resources for answering concerns about neglecting systemic change? Are there any particular articles or posts you point people to?
Hey Pablo, thanks a lot!
I'll normally rattle off some of the points from this post, and send it after we chat.
This post is also helpful.
Fantastic post, especially the structure. Strong upvote.
Related anecdote: When I co-founded Yale EA, I tried everything, from group projects to speaker events, with wildly varying success. But at the end of the first year, it seemed clear which two things had given us ~90% of our value: Giving Games, and social time (dinner, movie nights, just hanging out on campus).
The second of those surprised me, especially since this was 2014-15 and we cared more about getting people interested in donating than we did about structured career change or helping people explore into EA philosophy. But if you're going to convince someone to make any kind of major change in their life, or at least to do their own research, you need them to trust you, to like you, and to know that you actually care about their interests.