Engagement: The Path to Deeper Connections

Originally posted by Chris Jones, a TalentCulture contributing writer. He is an IT Strategy & Change Management consultant, with a passion for driving new levels of engagement and learning in the modern organization. His research areas include the dynamics of organization culture, and more recently, the importance and implications of critical thinking. Check out his blog, Driving Innovation in a Complex World, for more.

On the web, old school wasn’t so long ago. The world of Web 1.0 in the 90’s provided a new platform for virtually anyone to pitch their product, service, or point of view. If you expected a pitch, you were richly rewarded. Didn’t want a pitch? You got one anyway. In a world consumed by print and broadcast media, the early commerical web offered a new platform for the old approach for blasting messages in all directions.

Now the game has changed.  Web 2.0 software has brought an evolutionary step in communication, with social media making web-based communication two-way.

Some are simply experimenting and expanding their networks. Others see it as a new, powerful way to connect: virtual collaboration.

It’s definitely a new path, the domain of early adopters.  For some on that path it’s intuitive, but many still struggle with the new paradigm.

Here are a couple of thoughts on getting started, helping us achieve new levels of connectedness in our social media experience.  Think of them as ways to create ideal conditions for sparking engagement, unlocking deeper, more collaborative ways of communicating.

  • Removing filters (bringing an open mind).  Mental and cultural filters affect how we perceive the world around us, including the messages and ideas others share with us. Critical thinking requires that we start with a neutral, objective point of view, suspending our own presumptions, allowing us to explore ideas from new and different angles.
  • Confidence in not-knowing.  It is powerful to realize our knowledge is limited. It serves as a fertile starting point to knowing more. If we enter with the assumption that we already know the answers, we’ll shut down to new perspectives. Socrates was onto this with his Socratic Method, a foundational approach to debate and learning.
  • Willingness to take risks.  Putting yourself out there can be difficult. Not everyone is game for the vulnerability of honest exchange. Intensive learning experiences require a degree of safety, a comfortable environment for open exchange.  For many the internet seems an unlikely place for this, but for others, it is the perfect breeding ground for new ideas and expanded networks.
  • Bias for trust (aka “the benefit of the doubt”).  Trust is earned over time. But if you distrust by default, you will struggle to get to the starting line. Having a willingness to ‘lean in’ to a new relationship with a positive vibe helps spark a genuine dialog. To test the approach, flip it around: a bias for distrust creates resistance and cynicism. Can we collaborate in these conditions? Not likely.
  • Passion for change, learning and discovery.  Ultimately, the hunger to learn can be powerful incentives for overcoming the psychological forces of resistance, outlined above.
  • Give to get.  Don’t plan to gain all the value and share nothing. Exchange of value builds strong relationships because there’s a benefit to both parties.

I’ve experienced these dynamics in a variety of personal and professional settings, and I’ve seen them all online too. But in virtual mode, the connections happen faster and the benefits can accelerate.  Sadly, collaborative value is often stranded by old ways of thinking. I’ve taken a deeper dive on that aspect here.

The key takeaway is this: meaningful, collaborative engagement is free and accessible. We can connect with others around the world 24×7, with barriers like location and time removed.

There are no silver bullets, of course.  Building relationships takes time and effort, and so does learning.

But the first steps are simple:  gaining awareness and desire, and taking a chance.

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