One of the habits of highly effective people is to “seek to understand before being understood.” This habit teaches us to approach life with openness and willingness to learn — as a precondition to our effective contributions to the world. Some of us are quite good a “taking it all in” and processing lots of information. Some of us are quite good at expressing ourselves and having other people understand us. Both are important; and Stephen Covey tells us the sequencing matters.
But what about bloggers? How can they follow this habit? On the surface, a blogger first expresses a thought and then (perhaps) invites comment and participation. It seems bloggers can’t listen before expressing. Upon further examination (introspection) I think there is a path to success for the blogger too.
A few months ago I started reviewing chapters of a book a colleague of mine plans to publish soon. When it comes out I’ll write a full review. Before meeting Katrina Pugh a few years ago I never took the field of Knowledge Management very seriously. Now that I know her and her work, I do. Some people in the E2.0 field don’t care for KM — I think it’s because they have seen so many KM failures. When you meet a KM success, your views might change — they did for me. Kate’s book will break down the nature of conversation and knowledge into segments and steps that are beyond insightful. She’s the “real deal” and I’m very happy that she’s working on this book — you will enjoy it when it comes out.
We spoke about the nature of the blog-oriented engagement, in particular the way conversations change the people involved, in particular themselves. I shared the following thoughts with her:
I agree with your observation. I blog to reach out and invite others in. This process creates engagement. I have to refine my thoughts before blogging – which is good for me. But more importantly I get to learn more when people react. This improves me, while also allows me to engage with others. As an extrovert – I take the risk of being out there, and sometimes being wrong. But getting the engagement is rewarding. It’s also transformative.
A wise mentor once told me why I should listen more than I speak, and should ask more than I inform. He did this in the most remarkable way, since he appealed to my self-interest. He explained that when I enter into a conversation I already know what I know, but I don’t know what the other person does. If I dominate the conversation, the result is that someone else will know what I think. But I won’t even know if I was convincing. But if I listen actively, then I’ll get much more out of the conversation too.
What this means to me: Blogging done correctly is not a speaking act, but an inviting act. Blogging done with mastery is not just a conversation, but a platform for transformation and rediscovery.
Why is this so? Before you hit the “publish” button, you need to think carefully about what you are about to publish. This alone (the thinking carefully part) is incredibly valuable. A good blogger first finds out what others say. Then he tries to incorporate that information and come up with something new to say — hopefully something valuable to the readers. Maybe it’s an opposing view or a deeper insight into something we take for granted. And he has to accept the risk of being wrong, or at least being corrected, disagreed with, or even worse — ignored.
Doing this on a regular basis, will change you. And it’s somewhat addictive.
Bloggers have choices – they can use their blog as a speaking platform or an engagement platform. And even if they use it to engage, they can choose to be receptive to the direction of the conversation or simply use their responses to comments as a way to restate their positions to anyone who might express dissent. I believe the effective communicator is one that seeks to gain as much as they give — doing this by being open to other viewpoints, and allowing for discovery to take place by conversing thoughtfully.
So far this all sounds nice and good, so let me contrast this with a interesting behavior that I encounter every so often. It’s somewhat funny when it happens too. The pattern goes like this:
In a group conversation, Abe expressing an opinion to the group. Barry responds by saying “I disagree” and then proceeds to explain his views. Once Barry finishes, it becomes apparent to anyone listening carefully that Barry actually agrees with Abe. But many in the people in the group will think that Barry disagrees with Abe about something, they are not sure about the details. One thing they are sure about — Barry and Abe disagree. And the funny part is that they don’t.
So what happened? Barry simply began a long-winded message with a simple and clear one “I disagree with you.” Ironically, it’s not accurate. Moreover, it sets up confrontation, not understanding. The avoidance tactic is simple: Don’t begin with “I disagree” — especially if you are in a group of people you work with but don’t know well.
I recently observed this, and concluded that the disagree-er started with the “I disagree” in order to demonstrate he had an authoritative opinion. We listened carefully. When it became clear he was actually in agreement with the other guy, I was left with the impression that he was just a disagreeable person. Leadership failure.
The lesson: listen more than you speak, ask more than you tell. Adopt an open posture to new information. Even when you disagree with someone — seek to understand why you disagree, ask yourself why the other person holds that opinion, and look for the common ground you share, so that even your divergent views don’t cause divisiveness. In this way your conversations will change people, maybe even yourself.