Over the weekend I mentioned that we're having a conversation on blogs vs. listservs on the TRDEV list. It's been a lively discussion to say the least that has expanded into the blogosphere both here and at Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology blog. (Be sure to check out Tony's links to previous posts, especially Nancy White's great paper on blogs and community).
As we've gone back and forth on the list, one recent participant suggested that we might want to take a look at how we use questions to further dialog and community. He shared a great link to a guide on how to ask questions on e-mail lists and in forums, although I think that it could be adapted for active blog communities, too.
It got me to thinking about how we use questions in online communication. I find that for myself, I've tended to use writing as an explanatory medium. That is, I'm generally writing because I'm trying to explain or express something to someone (even just to myself). Questioning when I write doesn't come as easily to me as it does in conversation, where I'm more likely to use questions to probe for more information or to get a sense of where someone else is coming from.
But questions, of course, are the lifeblood of conversation. Without them, it's just two (or more) people giving speeches to one another, trying to make their points and get their voices heard. I try in my blog entries to ask questions, but certainly in my involvement on lists, I find I'm less likely to do so. If I wade into a conversation it's generally because I have an opinion. If someone challenges that opinion, I tend to not ask questions about where it came from, but instead to defend my position. Of course, it depends on how the "challenge" occurs--if someone asks me a question, then I'll answer. But if they come back at me with statements of their own that seem to challenge what I was saying in a less than "nice" way, then I find that I do become more defensive in the written forum than I might if we were engaging in face-to-face conversation.
I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this. I guess I'm thinking about how I participate in online communities and how I can lose some of the skills I have in face-to-face communication when I'm in certain forums. Part of it is the nature of writing and the lack of physical feedback, I think. But that doesn't mean that I can't do something to fix that. Sometimes it's good to go back and re-examine what we're doing and why we do it. In this case, I think I need a little reminder that questions are as important as answers when it comes to participating in online communities, even our blogs.
It's kind of ironic--as a trainer, I often say that learning begins with a question. Apparently I need a little of my own medicine.