Over the past couple of days, I’ve participated—at a distance—in an interesting conversation. Let me clarify, the conversation was interesting, but the dynamic of the conversation and what destroyed it was more interesting.

To provide some background, the conversation was on LinkedIn, I had gotten involved because it was about an article I had written that a friend had shared. It stimulated a lot of comments—both pro and con. I could have easily imagined the conversation being a voice to voice, or face to face conversation.

What was fascinating was to watch the “visual dynamic” of the conversation. Without even reading the comments, the visual map of the conversation was fascinating—the number of people participating, the length of their comments, the responses to comments. Visually, one could see a lot of engagement, people mixing it up, sharing of ideas. In actually reading the comments, there was great information and you could see people learning from each other.

And then, “Chris” joined the conversation.

Chris’s comments started like others. He presented an interesting point of view, reinforcing and building on much of the prior discussion. As with prior comments, others started engaging with Chris’s comments.

Without reading the content, the visual dynamic was fascinating. Initially, the length of comments and the number of people involved in the exchange was pretty balanced. After a few comments, the length (not to mention the ALL CAPS) in Chris’s comments increased substantially–often overrunning LinkedIn’s comment limitations. The number and length of the responses, as well as the number of participants plummeted.

As Chris started commenting more and more, longer and longer, the engagement plummeted until Chris was talking to himself.

I could watch this dynamic, without even reading the content of the discussion. Looking at the overall comment stream, Chris’s comments occupied over 40% of the comment stream.

One didn’t have to read the content to understand the dynamic, the visual representation of the exchange told me everything. When I read the content, it only reinforced what I saw visually. Chris had entered the conversation to share his point of view. But he wasn’t listening, he wasn’t open to other points of views. He wasn’t learning and he wasn’t contributing to others learning.

In the politeness of LinkedIn discussions and the written conversations, Chris’s engagement was “Yes, but…..” where everyone else was seeking “Yes, and…….”

Visually, one could watch the death of the conversation.

The fact this was a written discussion enabled one to visually observe the dynamic of conversations and how a conversation gets killed.

The same thing happens in our verbal conversations, but it’s more difficult to see how it happens. If we sit back, we can think about, “How much time does each person spend talking? How balanced is the discussion across all participants? How engaged is each participant? Is there a point where they disengage (for example, one person starts dominating)?”

Then we can think about and analyze the content of what is being said. “Is there a balance in questions and statements? Are we open to different points of view? How inclusive is the discussion and does the inclusiveness building through the conversation? Is each person learning in the discussion?”

As these elements get out of balance in the conversation, it shuts down. Conversations become lectures or diatribes. Engagement plummets. Barriers grow, learning stops.

High value conversations that engage our customers (and everyone involved), conversation in which everyone learns is the currency of sales. When these shut down and stop, we fail to achieve our objectives and the other participants fail to achieve theirs—or move to a conversation where they can achieve their objectives.

Try and experiment. Go to a LinkedIn article that has a number of comments–make it a meaningful article, not one on “How many sales people does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Look at the comment stream—initially don’t read the content. Look at the number of people participating, look at the responses, look at the balance of length of comments, look at the engagement–do people stay with the discussion, is there a balanced give and take? Try to detect the engagement of the participants by the visual cues you see in the comment stream.

Then read the content of the comments. Is there listening and sharing of ideas, is there openness to changing points of view, is there learning? Or is one person dominating? Is it becoming a diatribe?

Repeating myself, high value conversations—whether face to face, voice to voice, or in a message stream are the currency of sales people. Make sure you are a conversation builder, not a conversation killer.

SOURCEPartners in Excellence
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Dave Brock
Dave Brock is the founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a consulting and services company helping to improve the effectiveness of business professionals with strategy development, organizational planning, and implementation. Dave has spent his career working for and with high performance organizations, ranging from the Fortune 25 to startups, including companies such as IBM, HP, Nokia, AT&T, Microsoft, General Electric, and many, many more. The work Dave does with business strategies is closely tied to personal effectiveness of the people in the organization. As a result, Dave is deeply involved in the development of a number of training and coaching programs.

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