Thu 17 Dec 2015

Email etiquette for virtual collectives

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Recently Rich, Ben and I had the opportunity to spend time with the remarkable Cristina Flesher Fominaya, activist, academic and author of Social Movements and Globalization: How Protests, Occupations and Uprisings are Changing the World. Christina has written a great blog post on ways to counteract the potential negative impact of email use on participation and collective identity for activists trying to work horizontally.

I thought this might be of interest to some community members. Many of the points are applicable to the use of other digital tools (e.g Loomio), and relevant to the question of how we live the change we wish to see in the world.

I invite you all to read and would be keen to hear your thoughts! :)

The article: Email etiquette for virtual collectives


Greg Cassel Fri 18 Dec 2015

I agree with all of the essay's points about power dynamics. I think they apply deeply to all existing tools for online written discussion.

Frankly, my main reaction was a gentle bewilderment at the focus on email. I think email's just about the worst possible tool for discussion among three or more people, and I almost wish I could personally eradicate that use-case.

As Loomio devs are well aware, spoken language and traditional meetings come with their own suites of power-imbalancing perils. I've been outlining a blog draft regarding the pros and cons of spoken vs. written communications, and how they may perhaps be more effectively related to facilitate inclusive group process.


Genevieve Parkes Fri 18 Dec 2015

Thanks @hannahsalmon , I really enjoyed this article, especially Cristina's points on perceived authority and its gendered aspects.

I'm curious about her statement that clarifying or rephrasing other people's positions comes across as a paternalistic manoeuvre. In my experience providing a summary can often be a helpful addition to a long thread of conversation and it's also a common facilitation technique to reiterate and affirm as people can feel validated when they hear their point repeated back to them. Conversely though it can be disempowering to hear your point expressed in terms you didn't originally intend.

I'm interested to know what others think; in what ways can re-iteration, clarification and summary be constructive in conversation?


Greg Cassel Fri 18 Dec 2015

Your focus on that facilitation technique is really helpful IMO @genevieveparkes .

Personally, I think there's no way to make a 'rule of thumb' for that. I think Cristina's quite right that 'clarifying' or rephrasing others' views is often paternalistic-- or for that matter, can reflect any type of power imbalances. This seems especially common when the 'rephraser' is not speaking or writing directly to the person they've rephrased. (It's equally an issue IMO in spoken and written communications.)

At the same time, paraphrasing-- especially in the form of questions instead of statements-- is possibly the most valuable tool for creating genuine understanding among two or more interlocutors. This can tie into helping a speaker or writer to identify their key points.

It's not always apparent whether a 'rephraser' is actually trying to communicate or not. It depends on whether or not they're genuinely open to feedback from involved parties and other stakeholders. Dialogue requires a give-and-take.


Simon Thu 21 Jan 2016

This is a super thread.

I believe that some level of re-iteration, clarification and summary is essential for all communication because a lot of communication is in fact mis-communition. As you say @genevieveparkes, this is why group facilitators encourage these practices.

Meaning is clarified and can become shared though dialogue. Dialogue implies careful listening by people who what to understand each other. People who what to understand each other need to para-phrase/play with ideas they are hearing. So, as you say @gregorycassel, intention really matters. People who really want to achieve something together and have a strong sense of interdependence tend to take care with their relationships and communications.


Rochelle Furneaux Sun 20 Dec 2015

That's great thanks Hannah, I'm going to give this to the comms people at InternetNZ... ;)