One of the best features of Linkedin in my opinion is the opportunity to join Groups. It’s right there on one of the tabs near the top of your page. Hover over that tab and you’ll see a drop down menu appear that tells you what groups you belong to, what groups might be suggested for you based on your profile, and you can even create your own group if you find there is a need.
But why join a group at all in the first place? Like all groups in either your day-to-day experience or in the on-line world, people join groups for a variety of reasons. Some people join with the intent of engaging in discussion with their peers around the globe to gain insights into new ways of looking at issues, gain perspective on other practices, or perhaps validate their existing mode of doing things. These people are likely to be prominently known to others in their groups, and can often shape the direction that groups move in.
For others however, the rationale for inclusion in groups is less obvious. Why? Well their contribution to the group may be akin to the person who always shows up to the group meeting but never utters a word. Now in a real-life group setting, I for one know that when I encounter these people, I like to extend an opportunity for them to contribute either by asking their opinion, or perhaps going up to them in private before, during or after a meeting to introduce myself and feel them out on things. However, last night I wondered as I was checking out the statistics of a group I belong to, why it is that with a membership approaching 4,000, I only ever actually recall active participation in discussions from 15 people. Those 15 people are shaping the vast majority of the discussion and the focus of the group because the rest are silent. Are they reading but not contributing? Are they even checking in to discussions period?
We all learn in different ways, and some learn from active engagement in discussion, be it initiating, responding, re-engagement etc. However, there are obviously many who also learn from passive participation whereby they read articles, internalize the data, form an internal response, and move on without contributing in print or voice to ideas presented. My own reaction to this is one of disappointment and here’s why. While anyone reading a discussion thread may form an opinion based on their reaction to the discussion, perhaps even become enlightened or gain in knowledge, the opportunity for others to learn in-turn from another thinker is lost without engagement.
Imagine the scene whereby you stood in a room and started a conversation with someone. Far from being exclusive, others stopped and listened to the discussion. Soon four people were exchanging thoughts and ideas, and nine people stood in the same proximity but only listened and never opened their mouths, never made a non-verbal gesture such as a nod or a smile, just stood there. Wouldn’t you think that odd? Wouldn’t you reach out to them and introduce yourself and say, “Oh hi, we were just discussing such-and-such, what are your thoughts?”
Far from a reprimand of any kind, (for that is not my intent), I just wonder about the purpose in being a part of a group is because the participation in groups is entirely voluntary. Those that never contribute may not have found the group of benefit, but then why not remove themselves as you would in a conversation to which you find no interest? Excuse yourself and walk over to another group of people and see what is being talked about.
In the past week, I’ve chatted with people in Australia, Africa, the U.S., here in Canada and that is such a wonderful thing that only a decade or two ago would have been not possible. In my opinion, the value and use of this medium is still largely untapped, and I believe one day others will look back and realize that in 2013, people had this extremely powerful tool available to them but underutilized it – and I include myself in that number.
Group discussion and participation is but one tool in a toolbox that is at our collective disposal. Like any tool, we have the choice of using it or not, pulling it out frequently or seldom, and it may go in and out of favour too. If we’ve had a negative experience in group discussions, we may backtrack and withdraw for a time. If we receive positive feedback, we may accelerate our participation.
I write and share these thoughts in an effort to gauge the opinions of others both active and non-active. As in any other discussion, we all benefit when we use the principle of inclusion to hear from all the voices; not just those who speak the most often and the loudest.