Blogging is all about getting your point across and being heard isn't it? Actually, no.
As I have said before, the real point behind blogging is getting involved with the conversation which must be a two-way affair for it to work. As bloggers we become so caught up in our own opinions and the desire to get posts finished that we often fail to notice what is going on around us. We must always look at the bigger picture as it will undoubtedly affect the way we think about any given subject.
Cycle of conversation
I've been on many soft skills courses in my time which attempt to teach you how to have an effective conversation by recognising the different elements at work (the cycle of conversation) and how to use them correctly; when to step back or when to direct the conversation to where you want it to go. None of the courses I have attended, however, have focused on the listening part and used exercises to demonstrate the importance of this skill. They always focus on hearing the other side but not digging deep and really listening to what what is being said.
Hearing and listening are two completely different things. You can hear something but not take notice of it, you don't get an appreciation for exactly what is going on. Once you do take notice you start to listen and this is where you achieve real benefit from the conversation.
With all this in mind, how does listening fit in with the blogging process?
We cannot simply throw words and opinions at our readers or they will not remain so for long. Our brand, and the loyalty it commands, is only as strong as our reputation and if we develop a reputation for being arrogant, narrow minded or egotistical we may as well just give up now.
In order to blog successfully we must be open to other opinions and influences which we can obtain from sources such as our reader's comments, other sites and blogs and our ever increasing circle of 'friends'.
If one of our readers has taken the time to leave a meaningful comment (not just the 'great post, here's my link' type) then we must show that we appreciate that comment by listening to it and responding accordingly which is why I say that we should be using comments to further the discussion.
While it is nice to get comments of affirmation it is equally important to receive those that are contrary to our position; these comments are the ones that make us think, make us re-evaluate our ideas, and cause us to understand what we say by having to explain and justify. We should, therefore, always encourage opinion by asking open questions. A debate doesn't work if you present your argument and then refuse to hear the reaction.
Every site that offers blogging tips will tell you to get out there, read other blogs and network with the authors. It may sound like a cliché but the importance of this act cannot be over emphasised. Other bloggers will be just as opinionated as you but their opinions will be different. By cross referencing a range of other authors you can establish a wider view, determine trends or even spark off a good healthy debate. Bloggers will always be a good sounding board for ideas and many will take those ideas and extend them into areas you had not considered - the converse is also true in that we take ideas from elsewhere and add our own take.
Just subscribing to a range of blogs doesn't work, you have to try to understand what makes that person tick and why they say the things they do - you can then gain an appreciation for their thoughts and writing style. In short, you have to listen not just to the words but to the meaning.
By getting to know some of your favourite bloggers using social networking tools you will enhance both the relationships and discussions you have with them which can only lead to better insight and, consequently, better blog posts.
The hardest part of any conversation is listening but do it well and it makes you more thoughtful, considered and productive.
Image by Simon Crowley.