Controlling the Conversation?

April 16, 2010

Hold the Reins!
Hold the Reins!

When they say “one photograph is worth a thousand words” they’re not kidding! I used this photo in a presentation last week at the Nonprofit Technology Conference with the caption “Hold the Reins” and it caused a bit of a stir. It also created a perfect opportunity to explain why active listening to social media networks can help you manage a conversation.

We were talking about listening in social media and how the conversation can get away from you before you know it if you are not listening. I also said when you see a conversation taking a negative direction you have the power to guide it in a more positive direction and–in effect–control it.

There was a comment on Twitter during the presentation and Susan Tenby, my co-presenter saw it and brought it to our attention in real time.

“I cannot disagree more strongly with listening discussion so far. Command and control approach to conversation is fail. #10NTC.Listen“…

Wow, I was a little shocked to hear anybody get that from one of my conversations, and it wasn’t the message I was trying to send at all. I’m not an advocate of trying to “command and control” a conversation at all. It just serves to drive the discussion underground or fan the flames.

Thank goodness we were listening. It gave us the opportunity to correct the misconception on a face to face basis before it spread and that, my friends, was exactly what I meant.

The image means something different to me because I ride horses. My riding coach says this all the time “You can’t MAKE a horse stop or turn. You can only make it easier to go where you want to go.” The same holds true for conversations. You can’t force anybody to switch their opinions or change their messaging to match yours. BUT you can give them the right information and messaging to correct misconceptions. You can answer questions or conflicts by being positive and helpful and by doing so put out fires that will simply rage out of control if you’re not listening. You can turn trolls into evangelists by simply recognizing the value of their participation. Sure there will be times you can’t stop the headlong rush of a conversation that doesn’t go the direction you want it to go.  Make sure you are listening so you can learn from it.

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