On conversation

One of the questions I am often asked is why people in knowledge management are so preoccupied with conversations. Why does conversation need to be facilitated, is another question.

Let me answer with the following points:

1) Sometimes conversations inside organisation need permission since there is still the belief that conversation is just idle chatter. Knowledge managers like to enable and allow conversations to occur since conversation is good for business.

2) Conversations are important because they are interactive communication styles that enable work to be done more quickly, or more effectively, or more clearly, or with the assistance of others. Conversation is often told as a story – “Did you hear what happened when Vlad went down to the blood bank yesterday? He met the incoming CEO and as they both sat together giving blood, they discussed the problems we are having with the new content management system. The incoming CEO said he’d like to follow up and help sort it out when he starts next week”.

3) Conversations are not work-related. This is a common comment to which I say: “Please tell me how you differentiate a conversation that is work-related or otherwise”. Individuals inside organisations spend a lot of time together and rarely do they work in isolation. There is a social side of work that needs greater support. Social relationships at work that engender fun, trust, co-operation, and respect are all good things. In addition, conversation acts as the glue that brings people together inside organisations forming part of the organisation’s culture from which “real” operational issues can be affected. Moreover, you might be surprised to learn that much of the conversation that takes place at work IS work-related.

4) Conversations happen anyway. Yes, this is true but it is also true that facilitating people or situations can lead to more rapid and more targeted interactions. There are sometimes people who remain unconnected without some assistance.

5) Conversation can only occur face-to-face. This is partially true since it is also possible to have a conversation via text and SMS, or over the phone or over the internet. When I established communities of practice at a former employer I created an infrastructure, a permission-based system that said it was ok to speak to colleagues in other offices scattered around Australia and New Zealand, and a medium of communication that could approximate the friendly conversational atmosphere of a social chat at the local pub.

6) Finally, conversation is all about connecting with other individuals and larger people networks, enabling an individual to tap the minds of many or make possible connections to people you have no idea about. Remember, without conversation there is no communication, and no communication is bad for business.

It is clear to me from my experience, and discussing the issue with colleagues and knowledge management professionals, that conversation is more than just idle chatter. Put conversation to work in your own organisation and see how it works for you. And if need be, hire a knowledge manager to help the conversation along.


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