Helen Harries-Rees was part of Mayvin's New Skills for Learning and Organisation Development Practitioners programme (facilitated by James Traeger from Mayvin). Here, Helen shares her experience of the programme and explores how change is a conversation:
In addition to developing my existing skills, my original aspiration for being part of the group was to understand how I could be more effective at using social media for sharing information in a professional context.
On the cusp of our 6th session I shared some thoughts on our private forum (Basecamp) around social media and the whole concept of publishing, which was stirring something in me. My thoughts had been spurred by an article that James had circulated ‘Revision Organisation Development: Diagnostic and Dialogic Premises and Patterns of Practice’ and by a social media ‘how to’ presentation from one of the colleagues in the group.
I was quite trepidatious about sharing these thoughts as I was worried about how my message would land and how I was going to be perceived. What I was sharing was a real disclosure on my part, I was opening the book and revealing this development area, saying “this is what haunts me around this particular issue”. Nevertheless, I overcame the initial hesitancy because I wanted to share this so that they could understand the internal conversation I was having with myself and I really wanted to see what response I would get back from my colleagues.
My post definitely elicited real engagement from everyone! What surprised me was the quality of feedback I received, the themes that were being observed. All the responses said “I have my own challenges with this” which for me as someone who was stepping out and wanting to learn a new skill made me feel ‘thank goodness’! I was putting it out there, I had got it on the agenda and was reassured that this was a mutual challenge that many people have and I’m sure many leaders have which then prompted me to feel more confident about learning more and practicing more.
As you’ll see in the dialogue that follows, I shared my MBTI type, which prompted my colleagues to do the same and to delve into this issue with the common understanding of MBTI and communication, enabling us to recognise the nuances around our preference types and the different ways they may engage with social media.
One of the core elements of my apprehension focused around the whole concept of ‘publishing’ as opposed to ‘conversations’. Publishing feels much more formal, like you’re offering your contribution up to the gods, whereas conversation, for me, is much more around communicating. I like using the word conversation rather than publishing as I see it as much more akin to my style, my work and experience.
My post catalysed a deepening of the conversation we were having as a group – not only online but face to face. Our forum had been relatively quiet over the last few months, we hadn’t really been sharing our experiences and I felt that I had to bring something to the group, to prompt some reaction. As you’ll see below, my post enabled others to open up, to reveal their shared lack of confidence (‘I don’t want to look like a numpty!’) and other concerns around using social media.
It made me realise that we can afford to be a little bolder, a little braver around giving feedback and not holding back. We can be a bit more honest and as facilitators we need to be. If it’s in the interests of development we need to explain what we’re seeing which could be useful to that individual or not.
It has definitely given me the confidence to be more experimental and creative. It has opened the space for my imagination to become a lot more alert and alive.
This small example of ‘action research in the moment’ has also made me aware of the care and responsibility required when communicating online. In person, you can rely a lot more on non-verbal communication and body language but when you’re communicating online, as a development professional you need to be particularly mindful about what you’re writing and how your message is coming across.
Without further ado, here’s our lively exchange:
Participating and contributing via Social Media
I need your help please…
The word ‘publishing’ via digital media, as mentioned before, is still a problem for me. I am trying to consider this contribution as a conversation, and I want to carry out some research around the potential barriers I am finding with on line conversations.
Being an ENTP (Myers Briggs Preference Type) I would ordinarily relish the opportunity to interact with others, to converse, to be heard and to share conversation but I am still finding this conversation a challenge. I would like to explore why this is still a challenge for me and how this challenge may also be one that many leaders face - your help would be much appreciated.
So if this is a conversation, I first would have to establish some kind of rapport to get to know my audience. Right, so in this case my audience is you, my base camp colleagues. A highlight for me of The New Skills for L&OD Practitioners group has been the development of our relationships, the rapport that we have established, the stories we have shared, understanding what is going on in our lives, the progress of our work and recognizing challenges during the last six months and I feel we have got to know each other pretty well. This should be easy then….. Yes?
On line conversation - No, It’s not easy as I am not getting anything back from you.
Face to face conversation - I would hope to get a nod, some eye contact or some kind of reaction here. I would also normally be assessing how you might be feeling today, how your day might be going and how best I can present any information or questions to you.
Is it because I have nothing coming back to me that is putting me off?
In conversation we usually create social interaction which at least provides some kind of exchange. This exchange usually informs you of how to proceed with your communication for example it guides you as to how your information is being received? It provides the ability to listen, observe and plan emerging next steps of conversation. There is usually a nod, a smile, a frown, an interruption, a raise of the eyebrow, a shuffle, a movement which is quite often what is needed to spark intuition and spontaneity to a communicator.
This also allows the composer of the conversation to flex, adapt, form questions and for me, it usually inspires confidence for me to continue. Ok, so why should I care? Well I do, and I am sure most leaders do when publishing or conversing on line. More and more global leaders are relying only on technology and social media to communicate with people….how can we support them to effectively use this medium to converse)
Online conversation: Still nothing coming back. Are you still with me? or have you started fixing the dinner?
Face to face conversation: I would usually recognise that maybe you were getting bored by now and I would more than likely flex or change my conversation to adapt my conversation to meet your needs.
I am now wondering, therefore, if publishing is able to be defined as a conversation in reality. A conversation provides interaction which is a two way method to explore and unlock new thoughts, ideas and knowledge. It has also brought a question to me whether social media can promote or encourage emergence….. can a conversation really flow?….. or does there have to be some point of 'conversing’ on line. Should I only publish something if I have something to say? How can you create dialogue and interaction?
I invite you, my colleagues, to help me test this theory please. How can this digital conversation emerge, develop and grow without face to face or vocal interaction? Does it have to be controlled by me the instigator or can it go in any direction. Do you need a (hashtag, subject) to generate meaningful conversations? How brave can I be?
I am just playing here with some questions and I really am keen to see and notice your reactions to my random thoughts. Can you possibly help me to understand my concerns and questions of the use and power of social media.
Please tell me if my ramblings have at all even slightly prodded you to respond or not?
I await for whatever response I get…….
Conversation or Publishing….
con•ver•sa•tion [kon-ver-sey-shuhn] Show IPA noun
1 informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.
2 an instance of this.
3 association or social intercourse; intimate acquaintance.
4 criminal conversation.
5 the ability to talk socially with others: She writes well but has no conversation.
pub•lish [puhb-lish] Show IPA verb (used with object)
1 to issue (printed or otherwise reproduced textual or graphic material, computer software, etc.) for sale or distribution to the public.
2 to issue publicly the work of: Random House publishes Faulkner.
3 to announce formally or officially; proclaim; promulgate.
4 to make publicly or generally known.
5 Law. to communicate (a defamatory statement) to some person or persons other than the person defamed.
verb (used without object)
1 to issue newspapers, books, computer software, etc.; engage in publishing: The new house will start to publish next month.
2 to have one’s work published: She has decided to publish with another house.
Helen, I think this is great - it strikes me as a delightful, whimsical and inquiring bit of 'publishing’ - a lovely way to 'break into voice’ as it were!
I think my response would be that you have (at least) two 'voices’ (as we all do) - one face to face (F2F) and one in writing, and both need confidence to build - they don’t do the same job, although they overlap. And this one can be pretty expressive too. Maybe more some in some dimensions. Although I grant you not with the same nuances or in the same registers as the other one.
The good thing about this one is that you can indulge in a little fantasy (he says, as he sips his pina colada on the beach…or does he…!?)
Both take practice, confidence building and positive feedback. So brava on first steps! Now keep walking..?
Hi Helen, An interesting conversation starter! I am also an ENTP and also have a high visual representation system, so I find face to face and being able to watch the other person a lot easier in terms of conversation. I avoid the online conversation as I am not confident about the response I am getting as I cannot read the response with body language and tone, relying only on the written word which can be interpreted in so many ways. However, perhaps that is where the opportunity lies to develop the conversation as it must surely open it up to asking more questions to gather information, aid clarity and understanding. It may also mean that you make less conscious or sub-conscious assumptions based on how the person is looking??
At the moment I would say I lack confidence to publish in-case it is seen as daft and sometimes not knowing where to start. I did not respond last night as I do not have technology 'on’ in the evenings as I do not see it as part of my evenings activities. I actually am so bad that I don’t even answer the phone after 9pm! Interesting when we talk about online conversations, there is probably a similar reaction out there to when the telephone came into being, people didn’t like chatting over the phone and some of us still don’t really - again down to the natural need for humans to interpret communication with a strong reliance upon body language and tone of voice. Now we spend hours chatting on the phone.
I am sure that as a business we would benefit from online chat to develop ideas, challenge, create, share etc etc. It needs to be quick and easy to access and not a distraction and what if you want to chat but the other person is busy or distracted?? As you say you pick up on that when you are face to face. Interestingly my husband who is allegedly not into social media, spends most evenings chatting on motorbike forums and loves it, he also gets all his business from there and gives technical advice too.
I am still not sure where to go for the chat though, beyond our group, not sure if I trust them or know how to break into it. Because despite being outgoing I really do not like networking and will stand at the back at a networking event or conference, I kind of get talking in a small group when I know what the subject matter is. So for me to introduce myself on line is even more scary.
These are my thoughts so far Helen.
Your line of inquiry is brilliant - and definitely echoes the discomfort/uncertainty that I sometimes have in learning how to converse in the online realm.
In relation to this group, I agree wholeheartedly that one of the elements I’ve enjoyed the most is getting to know you all, developing that rapport and understanding of your different contexts and challenges. How does this translate into the online space? Speaking personally, I had hoped to contribute more of my thoughts and reflections online over the course of the last few months, to engage much more than I have. Work and not so great health hasn’t enabled this - excuses aside however, I think that this way of learning - action learning both during the sessions themselves and continued online in the interim - can be very powerful.
There have been a couple of levels of learning in this group - emergent change, 21st century leadership (and applying and experimenting in our day to day work) - coupled with a meta level - of getting to grips with exploring these ideas and concepts in the online space. I would argue that there’s a strong possibility that following this experience, we may feel more comfortable communicating online as part of future learning experiences (formal or informal).
Why does the conversation flow online sometimes and not at other times? I think there are a few potential reasons for this.
Where our group is concerned, conversing and engaging in the online space is an area of development for all of us. With any area of development, there can be a sense of discomfort (conscious incompetence) - am I doing this right? Do they understand me? Are they interested in what I’m saying? What makes this harder is the fact that we don’t always get feedback on how we’re doing (goes into the ether or disappears into the vortex). As you say, when we’re F2F, we see when people are engaged or when they’re tuning out, there’s the social cues and body language we can read. Online there isn’t. So how can we tell how we’re doing? - I think this can be quite off-putting to some (particularly when we’re not getting a response).
James’ points re the different 'voices’ we have - whether in person or online and the need to develop and understand the different nuances and subtleties of both - is very true. We’re all fairly adept at communicating F2F - online is a different story. So how do we build that competence? I say experiment - this group has been a safe space to do that. Twitter groups or linked in groups (with people you know and trust) - can be ideal to continue that experimentation: what works? what engages people (particular ideas/stories/experiences/opportunities to share etc)? Another reason is immediacy of response/feedback. This is what I see as the paradox of social media. Although it enables immediacy (of response or passing on particular messages), it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that those who you want to respond will do so immediately (or sometimes at all).
I check my email at set points during the day and usually only look at the main social media sites I use (Twitter, LinkedIn) when I’m commuting and sometimes in the evening. I’m sure I’m not alone in how I choose to consume information online, which means that online conversations can sometimes be quite staggered (depending on when the parties involved are online and focusing their attention on the email/post in question). This is not to say that very interesting and useful conversations can take place in real time on twitter or other social media spaces - it’s all dependent however on people being in the right place at the right time and having the time to engage and respond.
A final reason is that sometimes the conversation just flows - whether it’s a matter of competence, time, interest etc. As an INFJ, I need quite a bit of time to reflect and integrate the learning into my practice. I’m also a recovering perfectionist 🙂 - so don’t always find it easy sharing my evolving thoughts. I think the magic happens in online forums when we try (as much as possible) not to self-censor or second guess (within reason of course). So much of this however is down to choosing the right environment as well (ie. a group of individuals who you trust with your sometimes scattered thoughts or kernels of ideas).
Regarding your differentiation between publishing and conversation, publishing feels too formal to me for general online conversations such as this. Others (possibly James) may disagree with this, but publishing brings with it a formality, which, for the aspiring online communicator, can also be a little off-putting ('I’m going online to publish my thoughts’).
I feel more comfortable with the idea of 'sharing’ my thoughts - particularly when it comes to twitter or this forum. Conversation is an apt description for this as well. When I think of online publishing, I think of blogs, which whilst they invite comment and engagement, are usually (in the professional sense) offering a particular model or approach. On the other hand, I would also be comfortable seeing these as 'sharing’ or invitations to engage or 'converse’ as well.
Lastly, where leaders are concerned, I think all of these elements apply.
Benefit - what’s the benefit for them of engaging and contributing? (If it’s compelling, they will then (hopefully) make the time to do so).
Trust - are they conversing with people they trust? How candid can they be? Say for example the leaders in question are part of a leadership development programme and the online forum forms a core part of the action learning component of the programme. Are they peers representing different parts of the business? What are the politics that one needs to be aware of (all vying for a limited number of partnership roles etc)?
Surfacing all of the potential obstacles to building trust between the leaders is really important (and could ideally be a core objective of the programme itself) - but is pretty essential in creating the necessary environment for the leaders in question to be comfortable to share and be open and maybe a little more candid than they would ordinarily be in the online space.
Competence - related to the above, and if conversing online is relatively new, what support do they need? How comfortable do they feel experimenting with their group?
Curious what everyone thinks.
Following Helen and Clare…. some ramblings from me!!
I fully understand and empathise with the position that has been articulated, and I am an ESFP! ….and for me the issue is most definitely of being seen as a bit of a numpty because the published content may not be professionally or technically brilliant and innovative, etc etc?? - I do care what people think!
So I reckon I need to generate a sensible balance.
On one side of the scale:
I recognise that it is essential for my work, in today’s modern technology fuelled world, to utilise all platforms available to communicate my message in a work environment that holds 4 different generations. To ignore the presence of social media platforms that can add value is unprofessional and not a route to success.
On the other hand:
I have no desire to spend loads of time on activity that does not provide me with the physical responses that I need (crave!) - namely the face to face activity which enables us (as Helen identified), as people persons, to respond and interact. My success in life to date has relied on my ability to do so and to change this would upset my equilibrium / my happy and contented state.
So… what is needed?
A rational response which suggests a need to generate balance. A balance that I am personally happy with, but a balance that pushes me to change (even just a little) to embrace new ways. I do not want to be a dinosaur!
For me effective conversation is the lifeblood of an organisation and I know that I sit in the MARK TWAIN camp which espouses - "let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other so that we can have some conversation.”
So where do we differentiate between communication and conversation??!!
I confess that I am still struggling with this bit.
Many thanks for your responses, in the interest of immediacy… as I don’t want you to think that I am not appreciative… I have just arrived in the office and have only just scanned your contributions,… whilst eating an egg mayo sandwich… (James….not a pina colada..) and to be honest your thoughts have lightened my lunch time/or excuse the pun…. enlightened my lunch time!
There are some really excellent ideas and themes that you have introduced to my conversation and I would dearly love to explore these further with you over the next few days on line, if you don’t mind. Unfortunately I will not get a chance to respond to you until the evenings or weekend, but I promise to get back to you…. do please keep your thoughts coming to test out the emergence of on line conversation.
Once again many thanks
The responses from my colleagues reassured me that this was a mutual challenge and the themes and ideas that were coming back gave me a real sense of confidence to experiment. There’s a real change in the style and energy of the writing in my next post (responding to the themes and ideas that my colleagues raised).
As you’ll see, it’s much more free-forming and free-flowing:
Wow, what a great response I have just sat down and re-read your thoughts and I am struck by the following:
It would seem we all feel pretty daunted by putting something out there - mainly due to our lack of confidence, trust, feeling daft or a bit of a numpty etc.
Interestingly we have all learned what our MBTI preferences are, as a result of me sharing mine and it was interesting that we could all contribute around a common understanding of MBTI. Does this suggest we should strive to find something in common with our audiences to bring emergent conversational change? Clearly Claire’s husband who allegedly is not into social media has found a voice on his motorbike forums - this is his common interest... and he feels he can contribute probably with great authority as he is familiar with the common thread.
By thinking of conversation rather than publishing, as Bridget said, this seems to lessen the formality and therefore does it matter if we make a few bloomers?!!! Perhaps this can be rather endearing or authentic. I though looked at my first post and realised that my fingers sometimes work faster than my brain… i.e. missed words, poor grammar etc (Probably an ENTP trait) Sorry Bridget, might not help you as a recovering perfectionist….
Apart from Bridget, who is of a different generation… lucky you, we all seem to want to avoid being dinosaurs so I guess we need to become adept at playing and practicing on line debates and conversations. I love Bridget’s idea to develop our conversations via this platform, if we are able to, post the 28th.
Using both voices as James suggests, has got me thinking that I have, as a people practitioner, honed and developed my skills in F2F conversation and I like Jerry’s idea of getting a balance now to hone the skills of on line conversation, and solutions in the space can only get better by plenty of practice. Once mastered maybe we can become as equally effective in developing and supporting others via online platforms.
I am a great fan of action learning as Bridget mentioned and I know that I have learnt through this mini research. The learn for me mainly is to jump in and have a go, and sit back and see what evolves. I think your great reactions have made me feel more confident to try to push the envelope more often and to become more playful in the use of social media.
I feel I can trust you guys to accept my bloomers and inadequacies and I am kind of enjoying being a little whimsical in my thoughts of how my chat is landing with each of you… maybe by not getting the F2F social cues has almost opened endless possibilities and options for me to be a little creative with an added sense of adventure. I have also learnt that maybe it doesn’t matter if I am not technically brilliant, I can start a conversation that I can learn from. I am keen to know what, if anything, you learnt through the small flurry of emails that my original questions prompted? Please?
Not knowing where to start Claire is a mutual challenge I have also experienced, however, in the spirit of emergent change and through this mini exercise I am noticing that maybe that is the best way to be. I hadn’t really planned how I was going to converse with you guys, until I started writing. Being conscious that throughout the new skills for leaders we were encouraged to publish as a result of our time together, I felt a little under pressure to produce something but didn’t quite know how to start, and so I started to consider my change and what I needed to do and the next available adjacent step seemed to lead me to using Basecamp as a means to emerge my change through conversation.
I am wondering whether you could take this approach at future networking events. In the short time I have known you I think you have a great way of telling your stories from emerging conversation, you have often added real insight in our discussions at our sessions when you use real practical examples, e.g. I really feel your challenges at work with the characters that you have described within your organisation, you also seem to excel at connecting your stories in the interest of bringing learning to others.
You also make real practical sense for the listener, well for me you have any way. If you wanted to, I would suggest that you could easily become the creator of the subject matter, rather than just joining a small group at future events, and I don’t think you would look daft at all…
I am also struck that Bridget is an Introvert, and this may be a bit of an assumption so forgive me… but I can see that there could be huge benefits of social media platforms particularly for those who have a preference towards the 'I’ preference - When you converse on line your voice is very clear, it does offer you the time to reflect and respond and with the added benefit of having a J preference your written word is a joy Bridget. The clarity of your conversation, thoughts and questions are amazing. I am sorry we haven’t heard as much from you either on line or at the sessions and I dearly hope that we can continue to converse going forward.
Jerry, your question around where we differentiate between communication and conversation has left me pondering about the four generations you mention that you have in your organisation. You mention that as a peoples person you crave, like me, the F2F interaction. As a baby boomer, I have always wanted to participate and be involved and to be a crowd pleaser - maybe some characteristics of our generation.
A question which keeps recurring since my recent MSc, however, is how authentic I have been in my earlier career? Have I just been playing a part? Fulfilling what I believed others expected of me? Jumping to somebody else’s tune and not either recognising or doing anything with my own voice. In your question regarding communication and conversation, I wonder if I have been existing a life by only communicating at a kind of one dimensional level. I am enjoying toying with a far more authentic me in real conversation.
Conversation is the bit that brings to me a sense of authenticity and being more open and honest, I observe my daughter and my son and this seems to come much more naturally to them … might be relevant to your mention, Jerry, of the different generations.
I hope you don’t mind Jerry, but I feel I have really got to know you better in the last few sessions mainly because the quality of conversation has become somewhat deeper, particularly around the questions we explored at the last meeting. Maybe communication is ok but I think quality conversation brings more connection and meaning. I fully agree with Mark Twain’s quote and that is something I shall remember, thanks for this.
In summary I think it is all about confidence, practice and trust. I really value your responses, thanks so much.
Practice – brings confidence and instils trust. That’s fundamentally it. For me in my role, the question is what do we do to elicit more of that exchange or create more of that exchange for leaders going forward. And I guess it’s about being open and honest about your development requirements.
By Helen Harries-Rees and with contributions from Bridget Blackford, Clare Bell and Jerry Cartwright