I’ve been wondering about the etymology of ‘Conversation’. The ‘con’ bit has been worrying me.
It’s been nagging at me ever since some social media auditing I was involved with (many moons ago) revealed that an online news article with positive sentiment attached (the Holy Grail for many a PR) more often than not triggered a deluge of negative sentiment in the comment stream.
This came up for me again recently when speaking with journalists at The Guardian about influence (which, for the record, I argue must always be thought of in-context and as emerging from relevance.)
It’s almost as if to generate the greatest volume of positive sentiment you should duplicitously create content which argues the contrary position to that which you want people to take (and more fundamentally, express that they take). (Image courtesy Toban Black)
Turns out the ‘Con’ part of conversation isn’t the part I should be concerned about (ahem) more the ‘versa’ bit – which is from the Latin versus and does hint at the argumentative nature of much of our dialogue.
The flip of this is that much conversation is much more of the social grooming part of our behaviour. We agree on the niceness of the weather, that policemen are looking younger and other such trivialities. By agreeing, we reveal how alike we are, bring loose ties a little closer, prepare the ground for doing stuff together should the need arise.
By taking contrary positions we are also sharing our identity – expressing where we are in conflict and through this discovering others who are in accord with us.
Now, whether or not taking a contrary position or agreeing with fellow humans is the most effective way of generating positive or negative sentiment is of marginal interest to me. Learn too much about this and seek to gain from it and I doubt you’ll end up feeling particularly clean.
What encourages others to express what they think – one way or the other? Now that does matter.
It matters because the only way we can find others who care about the same things we do is through one or other party expressing that concern. Until you share your thoughts they have no value to you or your network. They contribute nothing to making your life better or the world a better place.
But the simple act of sharing what you care about can make change. When you share you allow others to access your thoughts and to discover you. And bringing people together around things that matter to them is what changes our world.
So what drives you to share? What would make you share more?