What Part of a Conversation is the Most Important?

by Jay Deragon on 01/16/2009

conversational webConversations are a two way exchange of giving and receiving. Whether verbally, through print, audio, images or whatever medium of choice everyone and everything is trying to have a conversations with someone somewhere.

The social web is fueling conversational content on a global scale about everything and anything. The dynamics are new in that the mere scale and velocity of these conversations have never before been experienced and thus both the adaptation and opinions of these dynamics are diverse, to say the least. So what is the value of all these conversations?

When we use the word “conversation” we think in terms of our relational experience with others. Whether those experiences be professionally or personal the common thread of relationships is the method by which we interrelate, a conversational experience that frames our relationships. Our frame of relationship reference is largely based on experience. Experience is what shapes our beliefs, our behavior and our personal and professional reference to expected relationship outcomes, today and in the future. Experience is also the filter by which many of us learn, right or wrong we make conclusions about people and things through what we learned from the past.

Can Conversations Change Future Experiences?

It has been said that learning is the doorway to the future. Without learning we simply repeat past experiences and at the same time we expect different results. Most people want an improved future whether it be personally or professionally. Our personal lives are influenced by the latest fads to improve ourselves, our marriages our families etc. Our professional lives are influenced by the latest corporate fads of improvement labeled by transformational management practices promising better results. Many of these efforts have failed to create sustainable progress in the foundational need of any sustainable change effort, the need for healthy sustaining relations. Where is the proof?

  1. The divorce rate continues to climb
  2. Peoples trust in corporations continues to decline
  3. The average tenure of employees continues to decrease
  4. Psychotherapy practices, both personal and professional, are growing faster than ever before
  5. Prescription drugs to deal with emotional problems permeates both the adult and youth populations
  6. Business scandals, malfeasance and turmoil persist
  7. Our children are seeking better ways, better relations and are seeking to be heard

What are We Learning from Today’s Conversations?

The maladies mentioned are largely the result of a breakdown in the human need to express and be heard. The MySpace Generation has witnessed these maladies and rebuked the lifestyles and old conversations subsequently creating their own beliefs and methods to express and be heard. The social web has provided the means for open, honest, frank conversations in abundance accompanied by the freedom to express in many different ways. Some adults and businesses are learning the same and the combined thread of conversations are creating markets with new definitions and new dynamics that are filling the voids of the past. How and Why?

Doc Searls, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto” says it best, “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.

However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets.

Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in

And Internet technology has also threaded its way deep into the heart of Corporate Empire, where once upon a time, lockstep loyalty to the chairman’s latest attempt at insight was no further away than the mimeograph machine. One memo from Mr. Big and everyone believed (or so Mr. Big liked to think).

No more. The same kind of seditious deconstruction that’s being practiced on the Web today, just for the hell of it, is also seeping onto the company intranet. How many satires are floating around there, one wonders: of the latest hyperinflated restructuring plan, of the over-sincere cultural-sensitivity training sessions Human Resources made mandatory last week, of all the gibberish that passes for “management” — or has passed up until now.

Step back a frame or two. Zoom out. Isn’t that weird? Workers and markets are speaking the same language! And they’re both speaking it in the same shoot-from-the-hip, unedited, devil-take-the-hindmost style.

This conversation may be irreverent of eternal verities, but it’s not all jokes. Whether in the marketplace or at work, people do have genuine, serious concerns. And we have something else as well: knowledge. Not the sort of boring, abstract knowledge that “Knowledge Management” wants to manage. No. The real thing. We have knowledge of what we do and how we do it — our craft — and it drives our voices; it’s what we most like to talk about.

But this whole gamut of conversation, from infinite jest to point-specific expertise: who needs it?

Companies need it. Without it they can’t innovate, build consensus, or go to market. Markets need it. Without it they don’t know what works and what doesn’t; don’t know why they should give a damn. Cultures need it. Without play and knowledge in equal measure, they begin to die. People get gloomy, anxious, and depressed. Eventually, the guns come out.

There are two new conversations going on today, both vibrant and exciting; both mediated by Internet technologies but having little to do with technology otherwise. Unfortunately, there’s also a metaphorical firewall separating these conversations, and that wall is the traditional, conservative, fearful corporation.

We would add that not only are the corporations fearful but so is the media and more importantly so are the bulk of the adult population who are relying on past experiences. The primary past relational experiences have been void of the art of listening and subsequently comprehending the value of a two way uninhibited conversation. If we knew how to listen what is it we would learn? From the learning what new future could we create?

Maybe we would discover what our youth already knows. Relationships are more important than anything else. But, how can we form relationships if we don’t listen? How can we create an improved future if we fear open conversations and try to prevent them in everyway possible? Here is a secret, you can’t but others will and are. If your listening what are you hearing?

What say you?


Ray March 23, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Do you guys have a recommendation section, i’d like to suggest some stuff

Site O Rific January 18, 2009 at 7:09 pm

One reason is that the Boomers (bless them) were so full of themselves for sooo long that they believed themselves to be transforming everything/ the world/ reality itself even, when in reality they were just re-translating the same old territory over and over and over and… Now they scratch their heads and wonder why the transformation is still not here…

I highly recommend the work of Ken Wilber and Don Beck on worldviews and value spheres. Search Integral AQAL and Spiral Dynamics.

I agree with the comment about PC non communication or even worse, NVC (Non vital communication). But there is a grain of idealism in there and that is the promise of a true pluralistic world space where everyone is included and free to navigate, but PC/ NVC is no the path to that freedom and equality.

Dan January 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Our language is lacking the words to mean the things we are trying to talk about. By the very nature of the change all around us, the definitions of Knowledge, innovation, relationship, corporation, culture, communication, information, markets, etc…..have all CHANGED.

These words used to float around with their stand-alone definition – now they are related by relationships. All of the above words and their definitions are being sewn together with a common thread. The constitution of this thread is something completely unexpected – it is the calculus of finance.

The migration is very important – we are reaching a state of knowledge tangibility.

Christine Morris January 16, 2009 at 10:59 am

I found your post after reading your Tweet about @shoemoney.

It is very interesting and I’m looking into the idea of more people using video as a way of conversation, and if anything is lost with that form. If the ideas about listeners and speakers are discussed, when video is used, you really must be a listener in order to reply. Well, you could not listen I suppose but your reply would be off topic!

Lastly, this may be a skill that does come with age, when you realise just how important listening is.

Michael Pokocky January 18, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Listening always wins in the Conversation.

Kurt Linderoos January 11, 2008 at 12:11 am

Conversations are easilyveryone is speaking his/her own story without really hearing or listening anything else.
I think the most important part of a conversation is not what is coming out but what is coming in.
Common things/interests – business AND private – are the connection yarns between people. It’s essential to find such things and then step by step grow/innovate that subject towards the goal, which was meant to be the conversation result/headline.
That’s how I feel just now. Did I speak about the subject?


Carter Smith January 10, 2008 at 9:02 pm

I’m with Joe (not a Hillary fan either) but regarding ‘The advent of PC has had the effect then of shutting down communication for these last 10 years, and frankly, I think the “xers and Yers” are not going to put up with it,’ I doubt many boomers plan on tolerating it, either. Humans reject anything they deem restrictive, an even us introverts feel constrained when our ability to communicate is restricted.

Joe Caulfield January 10, 2008 at 10:35 am

You say:
1. How can we create an improved future if we fear open conversations and try to prevent them in everyway possible?

Aah communication! There are few schools that teach the technicalities of communication. For the sake of brevity let us assume that communication itself has a solid definition.
It would involve a:
orginator (of communication)
Receiver (of communication)
Attention (we must be there)
intention (focus on what is being said)
Replication (The act of making copies-an ability to LISTEN)
acknowledgement (of the communication-I have heard you and UNDERSTAND you)

All of this is a practiced ability, like skiing. This “cycle” also goes back and forth between communicator (originator) and Receiver as we convers. It is simple to say, but perhaps even more complicated because of today’s additions of being politically correct.
Politically correct is just another attempt at stopping communication—(a crime against humanity). We are so concerned with being PC that in America we had serious articles written, blogs deciminated and coffee table discussions on whether it was okay for Hillary Clinton to “tear up”) in a recent interview. Goodness. What was totallyoverlooked was whether this overt display of emotion was appropriate to the situation. It was. And, I am not a Hillary fan.
The advent of PC has had the effect then of shutting down communication for these last 10 years, and frankly, I think the “xers and Yers” are not going to put up with it. They want what is real. Thank goodness for the freedom of the internet.
This subject is of sufficient depth and breadth that entire white papers and perhaps books could be written.
Let me suffice it to say, that when the above “cycle” is followed, real and true communicatrion can occur and corporations who understand this will move from Good to Great, while the others will languish in mediocrity.

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