INsight/ Empowering Online Conversations

Photo by Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay


Jakarta, 7 November 2018 — As more of our 1:1 and group conversations move online, how can you make them more enjoyable and effective? The answer comes in two parts.

Where are your conversations?

Think about your emails and your calls on your phone and on Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook and other platforms, and your participation in virtual team meetings and conferences for work, and how you engage in a host of online groups and communities through chat, tweets, webinars, blogs, vlogs, YouTube channels and other means.

Your possibilities to connect with people in online conversations are greater than ever before in human history. How many of your conversations do you conduct online rather than face-to-face, and how does this work out in terms of the connections you can make and the time you spend on both types of conversations?

For me, while I highly value having face-to-face meetings, both one-to-one and in groups, and I invest in having as many of them as I can, many more of my conversations are now conducted in one of the many online spaces I now have available to connect with each other.

What’s different online?

So what makes your online conversations different from face-to-face conversations? What do you like about them, and what are the challenges you encounter in having fun and effective conversations online?

Last week I joined a retreat of dialogue facilitators where we delved into these questions, using a process of co-creation where each of us shared experiences and we created our conversations together.

If you are experiencing a degree of overwhelm at the abundance of online resources available to you today, you are not alone. If you are familiar with FOMO (the fear of missing out), you might be spending most of your waking hours online. Or, you might be discovering all the shiny objects the internet has to offer and have difficulty keeping up with work and meaningful conversations without getting distracted?

Either way, it is worth remembering the most obvious difference in online conversations: they literally put the whole world at your fingertips by letting you connect with people you might never even meet in person, and you can make conversations regardless of distance and time zones. That person could be your virtual team member, a mentor or mentee, friend, or fellow champion for your advocacy. The possibilities are endless. Think of it: isn’t that simply amazing? You just need to learn how to make best use of the opportunities without wasting your time.

What’s also different in online conversations is that it is more challenging to feel and share emotions. What that means is that you need to spend time learning new skills to help you make up for the shortage of non-verbal communication clues and feedback during your online conversations. It’s a whole new world out there, in that respect, and you need to put in extra effort to level up your communication skills.

Empower your conversations online?

When you meet someone face-to-face, you might need little or no preparation to make it fun and effective. In your online conversations, however, you will find that your preparations have a much higher return on investment.

That’s why I have distinguished two parts to your work in empowering your online conversations, in the model below.

The first part is about what you need to work on to enable your conversations. The second part is about how to create and manage each actual conversation to be enjoyable and effective, regardless of whether it is one-to-one or with more participants.

Enable yourself first

How can you start using the model? Let’s take a quick look to discover the main points, and then we will fill in the details in later posts. 

We begin with the first part. Your enabling work covers three areas: tech, org and emo. First, getting familiar with the technologies and tools that allow you to have better online conversations, and how to make best use of their features. Since these are developing and improving all the time, it’s a good idea to nurture your curiosity and set aside time for learning about this every week. For me, this learning take places in bits and pieces every day!

The second area to learn about his how to get better organized for your online conversations. For example, how to frequently change the pace of the conversation, build in pauses for reflection, and why this is important. And there are many other organizational aspects to learn too. 

The third area is to learn how to incorporate the expression of feelings into your online conversations even as you experience a shortage of natural non-verbal communication. To put it simply, you will not be successful until you master how to share emotions online and get others to do the same. 


Then create…

The second part is to create amazing online conversations that build on the results of your enabling work. To make your online conversations successful, you need to create time for three phases.

The first—so frequently overlooked— is to allow the participants to make a strong connection with each other. Importantly, this includes yourself. 

The second is about deepening engagement and helping the participants clarify what will make the conversation successful for them. 

Creating the third phase, of empowering the participants to multiply the conversation to create more positive change—think of it as rippling out—will depend almost entirely on how well you handle the first two phases. 

Getting excited to get to work? Each of us has valuable experiences to share, including you. A good way to start is by reflecting on what you have learned from your best and worst experiences in communicating online to date. How did you capitalize on your enabling work, or fail because you didn’t invest time in this yet?

How did you create a flow in your online conversation through the three phases? What happened when you got to the third phase? Or, what prevented you from getting there?

Summing up, how you will develop your skills in empowering your online conversations will play a central role in your career from now on. Work is needed to get you there, and this post shows you how to get started. 

Further study

Want to learn more about empowering your online conversations?

You can tap a rich source of knowledge and tips in Jennifer Britton’s book Effective Virtual Conversations: Engaging Digital Dialogue for Better Learning, Relationships, and Results. I count Jennifer as one of my teachers in group coaching and facilitation and I warmly recommend her books. I will refer to her tips regularly during group coaching conversations in the online community of leaders that I am setting up.

Your attention might also be caught by Nick Morgan’s book Can You Hear Me?: How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, by Harvard Business Review Press. What Morgan shares is essentially a comprehensive analysis of the problems we can encounter in online conversations. While based on a thorough analysis, I feel that he missed out on reviewing many of the positive experiences and opportunities we have today in online conversations.

Meanwhile, no better time than now to get started using the model to empower your online conversations!

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