Workplace Issues

Going DC/DC: Having a Digital City-Dynamic Chat Experience - Part I

Mark Gorkin, LCSW ("The Stress Doc")

The Stress Doc sketches his evolution as leader/stress expert on AOL/Digital City-Washington's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat." Three key factors of the chat experience that propelled the Doc from awkward beginner to more confident facilitator.

What are your first thoughts when reading, "chat room" or "chat group?" And if they are x-rated, don't keep them to yourselfI want the links. No, just kidding. But for a lot of folks, I bet common associations are, "weirdos engaged in cybersex" or some kind of flaming food fight, like a scene from some virtual Animal House.

Well, I'm here to say that you can have great virtual energy, a lot of interaction, a free-flowing, thought-provoking and supportive exchange of ideas, insights and action plans, group bonding and, even, some person to person networking and socializing within a serious chat forum. But it takes trial and error, teamwork and time.

Teamed with a terrific host for the past four months, I've been America Online/Digital City-Washington's stress expert for the chat program, "Shrink Rap and Group Chat." Recently, KarenSnyd@aol.com, Features Editor, Digital City, proposed a weekly format. We had been running two groups per month. (The weekly format launches Monday Aug 17th, from 9-10:30pm EDT; here's the link: Dig City Promo - Stress Doc -- AOL Users Only!. (no longer available)

I protect my time pretty closely; my near spontaneous agreement told me I had come a long way in this chat business. Let me briefly trace my evolution - from awkward beginnings to current level of chat confidence. And I'll conclude with the Stress Doc's "Top Ten" Tips for Facilitating a DC/DC: Digital City/Dynamic Chat Experience or "The DC Squared (2x) Experience."

Start Up Anxiety and Learning Curve

The initial questions and doubts involved three basic issues - speed, interactivity and depth.

1. Speed. Not being a keyboard killer or anywhere near the fastest typist in cyberspace, I figured I'd be dead meat in any shootouts at the OK (Keyboard) Corral. Okay, so I get a little paranoid. But the first few chats I did take some ribbing about my lag time. My response, "Great minds, like great wine, can't be rushed," didn't cut it. No surprise; virtual reality is a time-sensitive medium.

Fortunately, audience pressure, my New Yorker's sense of competition, heightened adrenaline and just sheer repetition produced a noticeable increase in my word output. Another important speed booster was becoming less uptight about typing errors or my propensity for inventing new words. Sometimes a little ambiguity can have participants thinking, "Boy this Stress Doc guy is pretty deep." (How's that for rationalization?)

2. Interactivity. A final consideration bears weight on the second, interactivity issue. If you want a chat group with a synergistic blend of expert input and group participation, then a dynamic balance between formal and free-flowing structure is required. You can overprotocol a chat group, if not to death, to group inertia. With a gradual increase in confidence, my chat host and I increasingly err on the side of spontaneity over structure. Cross type/talk is encouraged. Sure it sometimes gets confusing - who's up next?, a bunch of words flying on the screen, keeping up with the dialogue sequence. But this is what generates ideas, involvement and intimacy. Of course spontaneity-structure is not a black or white issue. (And I'll detail specific techniques and strategies shortly.)

There's also a relationship among speed, interactivity and leader efficiency. To support a process of group sharing, a leader must risk putting ideas or responses on the screen that aren't precisely worded, perfectly prepared or fully formed (which doesn't make them uninformed or misinformed). Especially with a split window (upper half for host and expert) your kernels and morsels won't get lost in the spicy lower screen group gumbo. And, if needed, you can keep seasoning your responses. Just don't get too obsessive.

3. Depth vs. Breadth. In the early going, the thought of responding to a complex, heartfelt question on the fly seemed daunting . Would I know what to say? And even if I had a clue, in light of typing and time constraints, how could my responses be anything but superficial? Well, I still struggle at times with these questions, but I now realize two things: a) I have a store of basic and substantive information - ideas, resources and strategies - that cut across a variety of problem areas and b) I don't have to have all the answers or have in-depth answers, at my finger tips, as it were, all the time. Letting go of the all-knowing expert persona became easier as I allowed and encouraged the collective expertise and wisdom of the group. By patiently surveying group responses, I can selectively comment and intervene. This strategy also provides needed rest for the fingers, not to mention the neurons.

And next time I'll outline the Stress Doc's "Top Ten Tips for Facilitating a DCE - Digital City-Dynamic Chat Experience." Until then, of course... Practice Safe Stress!

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