In a post on LinkedIn called The Year aThat Was, Sandy Mannarswamy skips his normal year end review of technical innovations to focus rather on the impact the death of a colleague had on him. Specifically the conversations they no longer will have.
While there certainly is the sadness of conversations never to be had and opportunities missed due to death, Mannarswamy’s post got me thinking about conversations, work relationships, and learning; probably because he shared it in a professional milieu. Or maybe it’s because I’m in my annual year-end reflection about the past year.
Conversations – both live and online – were critical in a year that required massive professional and personal change and adaptation from me.
Before I go on, I’ll clarify what I mean by a conversation. Wikipedia says it “is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people.” They are often serendipitous, unplanned. Because of this participants are authentic, present, and open. They are there to learn about and from the other participants. The conversation IS the agenda. Conversations ramble, are messy, take time. Conversations slow us down.
They are inefficient. Their ROI is not obvious. They have often been viewed in the workplace as a waste of time. But conversations are where trust is built, networks are formed, innovation is born and nutured.
We may connect with someone on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter to “expand” our network, but they become an active part of our personal learning network once we’ve had a real conversation with them. An open, authentic conversation determines whether we can trust a person. Can I share my unpolished thoughts with this person? Can I be vulnetable and safe?
We will trust people who, as Julian Stodd writes in The Social Leadership Handbook, 2e, “The starting point is ‘How can I help you to succeed?’, not ‘How can I get you to do…?’.”
About a month ago, the #lrnchat Twitter chat group had a conversation about misinformation and how we determine what information we trust. Over and over the answer was the people in our trusted networks.
We learn from our networks. We add to what we know by strengthening the connections in our networks and expanding our networks through new connections. Conversation is the primary tool for this work.
But if conversations are spontaneous and inefficient, how do we craft a strategy for ourselves and, as learning profesionals, for others that enables them?
- Create environments that bring people together with “no agenda” time.
- Share your ideas when they are half-baked or at a roadblock seeking solution.
- Give a team a stretch project that requires new ideas, creativity, and/or new connections.
- If you are a leader, have conversations. In public. With everyone. It’s called modeling.
- Set goals that include conversations.
Help me out here. How do you increase the number and quality of conversations in your life? in your work?