Messenger is like your favourite pen. It sits on your desktop for months on end, taking up very little space. you don’t really even notice it’s there, until you need it. Then, you pick it up for a moment, make some notes, and put it back, to lie dormant again.
OK, it might not be quite that romanticised, but Messenger has certainly been around for so long that it’s almost part of the furniture. It’s barely innovative (and by Messenger, i mean any of the range of instant messenger tools), but it still reliably serves the function that it first set out to do; to allow you to tap someone on the shoulder and say hello.
Email is the big brother. Email lets you write letters. Nobody ever wrote an essay in messenger, but they might have given you a nudge and told you that they’d finished it. And why am i so interested in this old piece of software so suddenly? Well, mainly because, for many of us, it was the first foray into synchronous collaboration, instant messaging, with the emphasis being on ‘instant’. Whilst emails let you write letters to each other, Messenger and it’s friends let you chat. It was the first fully informal channel of communication, and it’s still with us today.
It’s particularly on my mind because i was talking to someone about using Messenger for Coaching conversations, to allow for immediate feedback and support. The ultimate in ‘just in time’ input. Instant messaging is good because it’s conversational. It doesn’t require detail and formal composition, it’s an informal channel, freeform and immediate. If you can both type well, you can even carry on multiple simultaneous strands of conversation, running over each other, like you would in normal conversation. Whilst it doesn’t allow extensive time for reflection, it does allow you to easily rehearse and refine fragments of conversations.
Considering how universal it is, it’s almost surprising how little use we make of it in learning and development. Maybe the very fact that conversations have little permanence (although they can be saved, which may be a negative factor) that means we overlook it as a serious tool, but perhaps we should reconsider.
For mentoring, for peer support for emerging leaders, for coaches and new inductees, there are multiple places where the instant gratification of instant messaging may be relevant. Maybe the fact that it’s such an informal channel has tainted it by default, leaving us thinking that messaging is fine for organising the drinks after work, but no use for planning strategy. Maybe, it’s old enough now to be retro, and it’s time has come. Again.