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Creating space for conversations to flow

After five years of facilitating virtual social learning circles, bringing together private groups of 4–5 people for peer accountability and support, we decided to try something new. What would happen if we opened up the conversation to a wider audience? Could we recreate the serendipitous and creative collisions that kept occurring in the private circles? Would we maintain the intimacy and interaction valued so greatly between the participants? Could more people join and benefit from the conversation?

Since May this year, we have been hosting monthly Connectle Cons to experiment with this concept. At first the conversations were recorded with a replay made available in the Connectle network. Since then we have become more confident with the format and the technology and in July, we opened up the conversations for live audience participation. With such a positive response so far, we are hosting more.

Connectle Cons visibly show the power of open conversation and connection. By creating the space for conversations to flow, participants are able to build relationships across personal networks and enable ideas to emerge and merge. Each conversation has formed strong bonds amongst the members, with many only meeting for the first time in the one hour Zoom webinar.

Connecting members in open virtual social learning circles, has enabled conversations to flow across the Connectle ecosystem leading to circles for coworking, colearning and cocreating.

The art of conversation

The private social learning circles we facilitated, primarily followed the guides for Working Out Loud (WOLCircles). We would group five participants together to meet for an hour a week over 12 weeks, each week following the guides to take small steps towards a personal goal. The benefits of this format were often incredible, especially in developing the mindset and skills needed to work in the complex and interconnected modern workplace of today. It really was a “you have to try this to really understand” experience. We wanted to take the learnings from observing and facilitating so many different WOLCircles and incorporate them into an open digital format that would open the flow of conversation and allow more people to experience the benefits we were experiencing.

Participating in a Connectle Con requires an unlearning of habits promoted as effective business communication or building your personal brand. In a Connectle Con, we are not looking for the expert with their prepared speech and rehearsed soundbites. These are authentic conversations, where people listen to each other and build on each others stories and ideas.

Technology has dramatically changed the way we communicate, with email, social media and ineffective meetings dominating our workday. Words and sentences are carefully constructed to either cover ourselves or brand ourselves. The art of real conversation — with risky discussions, exploration and active listening, does not have space in many of today’s organisations. To remove these boundaries that block information and ideas flowing through the network, we need to create space for diverse perspectives and conversations to flow.

Work today is far too complex to be done by individuals alone. With experts as the heroes of last century, today we need to work co-operatively to keep up with the advancements required. Where internal divisional competitiveness and politics served to make us faster and more efficient, we now find internal politics and competition counterproductive.

With the few Connectle Con’s we had done, we were finding our experiment was going beyond just opening up a social learning circle conversation to a wider audience. Not only could we recreate the creative collisions and intimate interactions — we were giving people the space to reintroduce conversation and connect across the ecosystem.

The four key elements of a Connectle Con

There are four key elements to a Connectle Con:

1. Keep it simple.

Connectle Con’s include only a small number of speakers. This is intentional, to enable everyone to have a say and participate in the conversation. Like in the social learning circles, 4/5 is the magic number. These are not interviews and not free-for-alls. These are intimate group conversations. 
The introduction of an audience surprisingly did not affect the intimacy of the conversation. Being able to participate via online chat tools meant they could be part of the discussion but not interrupt the conversation flow.

2. Include diverse perspectives.

Connectle Con’s embrace diverse perspectives. Although this is not essential for a social learning circle or WOL Circle, we found the circles that thrived did. Including people from the same team would bring existing politics and hierarchy to the conversation as opposed to the serendipitous and creative collisions we were looking for.

In our observations of social learning circles we found that:

  • People were more open with those they did not know.
  • People shared more when they were not being judged by their peers — people of equal “expertise”.
  • People were more creative and innovative when presented with input from outside their domain.

All Connectle Cons are consciously diverse, mixing up geographies, industries and experiences. Being virtual means we can push the boundaries for diverse perspectives even more.

3. Share Stories.

Like conversations themselves, story telling is an ancient craft that helps us make sense of complex things. With the ability to cross cultural boundaries and carry messages that linger long after the conversation ends. Stories educate, entertain and inspire.

In software development and product management, user stories are used to help convey a users requirements of a system without needing to understand the underlying technology. Connectle Cons use stories in the same way, allowing participants to convey their learnings and thoughts on a topic without needing to be the expert.

Participants are encouraged to share stories. By encouraging storytelling people get to know each other, relate to each other, discover shared thoughts and create stronger bonds. Stories help people listen and are an easy way for people to join the conversation.

4. Create conversations not presentations.

We are surrounded by presentations. Carefully crafted messages and promotions. Social learning circles exposed the desperate need for trusted spaces that allowed conversations to flow, where creativity and ideas could emerge and merge. Where people could ask questions and learn. For conversations to flourish we need to remove prepared presentations and encourage conversations around key topics.

Connectle Cons Guidelines:

  • Speak with intent. No prepared speeches.
    You are encouraged to speak when it is relevant to the conversation. 
    The focus is on learning not expertise.
  • Practice active listening. No interruptions or judgments.
    You are encouraged to listen and contribute to the conversation. 
    The desired outcome is a conversation flow.
  • Be aware of conversation wellbeing. No agendas. 
    You are encouraged to be aware of the impact of your contribution. Empathy and vulnerability are welcome. 
    The goal is to open the group up to ideas and innovations.

These are not TED style presentations or panel like conferences. Not experts with their prepared speeches and rehearsed and safe soundbites. These are real authentic conversations, where people build on each others stories and ideas.

The Human Algorithm

Even though the world is more interconnected than ever, the ability to filter our connections and conversations means that is too easy to connect with like-minded individuals. With so many of us craving to be more connected at work and everyone looking for purpose and shared values, we need to consciously create space for diverse perspectives to collide and expand our networks. Operating in private echo chambers of our own experiences and views, is limiting and dangerous.

In an increasingly digital and filtered world, we need a human algorithm. One where we are consciously creating conversations and connecting people outside of our immediate circles. To learn, develop and innovate we need to rediscover the lost art of conversation and get connected.


Join the Conversation
We would love to have you join us for our next Connectle Con.


Promos of previous Connectle Cons:

Social Learning Circles July 2017

Corporate Burnout June 2017