We all want to be heard. We all want to be acknowledged by others, even if just for the fact that we are present. This is a consequence of both our vital need for achievement and our vital need for social belonging – two of the three constituent elements of psychosocial integration.
During online communication, it, therefore, is essential that everybody receives at least a minimum of acknowledgment. But this does not happen spontaneously, especially not during online communication sessions. We all are notorious underachievers if it comes to affirming other people. Especially those who employ a strong style of communication (as described by Cuddy, Neffinger, and Kohut) are not very likely to acknowledge the presence of others. Those who, on the other hand, employ a warm style of communication are more likely to make others feel heard but are less likely to insert themselves into the conversation.
We found that two steps are essential to ensure that everyone will be heard during communication online. The first step is to introduce a moderator to guide the online conversation. The second step is to employ a script to start and end every online conversation.
Moderators are needed in online communication, among others, to affirm the presence of all participants and to stimulate them to speak up, whatever style of communication they employ.
Not everybody is suited as a moderator. In the projects OZO and OZO 2 we found that the first prerequisite for an effective moderator is that they need to be trusted by the other participants. A second prerequisite is that the moderator should be more knowledgeable on the subject of the online conversation than the other participants, but should not play the role of expert. The moderator’s communication style should be warm: listening and affirming and not forcing their knowledge upon others.
While moderators should strive to engage all participants on the fly during the online conversation, chances are that not all participants will be persuaded to do so. Especially those who have a personality situated more on the introversion dimension (one of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality), will experience trouble in making themselves heard, even when prompted by a moderator.
A good solution to this situation is to use a script to which all participants should subscribe. The script stipulates that at the beginning of the online conversation the moderator asks all participants individually, one-by-one, how they feel today. At the end of the online conversation, the moderator again addresses all participants, one-by-one, but this time by asking what sense the session had for them. These scripted questions might look a bit artificial from the outside but participants do not experience them as such. Rather, for a moment they feel sincerely heard and acknowledged.