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Executive Engagement in Three Venn Diagrams

By Rachel Happe, Principal at TheCR

I admit it, I’m a bit wonky. I really love Venn Diagrams, in part because I think most of the interesting things in life happen at intersections.  When I was asked to speak to a group of women about my online presence last week, I found myself using three Venn Diagrams to explain how I thought about it.

They were struggling with some common issues I hear from executives about engagement:

Here is my take on each of these topics and what I’ve found that works for me.

Digital Authenticity

How do you engage online in a way that shares the work you care about and connects with people in a personal way?

Sharing a stream of corporate content is unlikely to do that. So is a stream full of your strong political views or your obsession with a sports team.

To be human online is to share your complexity – but in a way that respects your audience’s need for boundaries. Talking about perspectives and issues that are too private makes others uncomfortable and speaking like a PR bot is completely uninteresting.

Finding the middle ground is key. That means mixing some personal and some professional observations and not going too deep into either – that’s best left for in-person conversations.

My father was a minister and I grew up naturally understanding this mix. Our church was our community – and I had to be myself to build relationships but I also couldn’t share too much because everything I did was a reflection on my father – or an opportunity for someone to use personal information for political maneuvering.  Having what I call the ‘third voice’ makes engaging online natural for me. Practice and develop your ‘third voice’.

What to Talk About

Your work is important to you. You have lots of other things that are also important to you. Finding a way to share your personal passions and use them as a lens on your work is where you can find interesting opportunities to connect and share your unique gifts and insight.

People are complex – your stream should be a mix of what you care about. That means you should share *some* work news, *some* of your political perspectives (if you have them) and *some* of your enthusiasm for your favorite sports teams (if you have one). You should also share questions, observations about what you are learning, interesting people you encounter and what you are thinking about.

Years ago, we had a client that was new to Twitter. His stream was full of corporate information. It was an area that I actually cared about so his stream was not entirely irrelevant. However, I actively wanted to interact with him on Twitter and could not find anything to say to him – he was not sharing anything personal or even anything work-related that was open to discussion. It was just news about his company and its market. I gave him that feedback and it changed the way he engaged online and helped him connect with other people in a way he just couldn’t before that.

Find your mix. Experiment with different types of content – news, questions, observations, responses to others. You’ll find what feels comfortable to you and connects with others.

How to Engage

My four-year-old came home one day with this drawing of friendship. As you might imagine, it melted my little analyst heart. I also thought it was a profound truth about relationships – they develop through conversations. One of the issues I’ve always had with ‘listening’ programs is that listening does not imply engagement or developing relationships to me – it’s one sided. Relationships require an exchange – the passing of information and leadership back and forth.

I’ve been writing about the Language of Engagement and digital body language for some time and both are critical elements of making authentic connections. Knowing how to ask and respond to others in a way that makes them feel supported and that challenges them to think differently creates the best relationships. The way you speak and the language you use is critical to creating the trust that allows for that type of exchange. Declarative sentences, judgmental language, subtle invalidators all shut down engagement. Respectful questions, caveats and supportive language encourage connection.

Unfortunately, in school and organizations, the language that is most often rewarded is not the language that drives engagement. Unlearning it can be one of the bigger challenges in connecting online. One of the best ways to practice the language of engagement is through asking more and better questions.

One of the biggest ahas for me when I started to engage digitally is that I didn’t have to promote myself, which I felt uncomfortable doing, to deeply connect with people. I simply had to share what I cared about and in the end that was actually a much better way to engage people – because I found the people who cared about the same things I did. Share what you care about and why you care about it and you will find your tribe.

When did you first start engaging online? What did you learn in those early days?

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