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What is an Appreciative Voice in Your World?

Your Voice is Silenced

Has there been a time in your life when you felt you lost your voice, or you had no voice, or your voice was not listened to?  Your voice was silenced. At such times, it seems your voice does not count. As a consequence of feeling discounted, there is a sense of also being invisible. You might say you feel even powerless.

I’ve felt like that in some meetings; in some face-to-face situations, with certain people, even in personal relationships, when I felt my voice didn’t matter.  My contribution wasn’t important.  My thoughts and feelings were dismissed or were patronised.

I’ve also been in conversations when I did not honor the voice of the person I was with. My behavior signaled their voice did not matter, and they, too  felt discounted, unimportant, invisible.  It happens in groups, in teams, in social gatherings.  As an example, in networking or community gatherings, the person you are speaking with has no eye contact with you and no animation in their face, until they spot someone they do want to engage with, and you're abandoned.

Being silenced can occur when you're in company and you're telling a story, then suddenly you're interrupted by a person with a story of their own because they believe they have a more interesting story that trumps yours. There is a big difference between being interested and being interesting.

While the shrill voices seem to be getting shriller, what might we offer to redress the balance and bring some of the quieter, gentler or lost voices into the conversation?

Might an Appreciative Voice be an Antidote?

I want to offer some reflections on how cultivating an appreciative voice not only strengthens you and expands your world, it also strengthens others and expands their worlds.

This topic comes to me following my participation at the AI Homecoming David Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington VT, co-hosted by the Center and The Taos Institute.

Appreciative Voice - age diversityOver three days, we workshopped together. We shared stories, asked questions, inquired into each other’s experiences, listened to, and discovered a host of innovations that practitioners and researchers are bringing into, and growing the practice of Appreciative Inquiry all over the world.  We listened to voices that had been at the edge and in the center;  those that are new and young, and those that are wise and seasoned.

As we experience the worldview of Appreciative Inquiry we are able to be deeply appreciative with ourselves and each other.  Our practice is to come from “inquiry” which opens us to intimacies and vulnerabilities because we consciously create a safe space to be in conversation and contemplation with others.

What is Life Giving about Appreciative Voice?

In a nutshell, the appreciative voice seeks to include and understand .  “Appreciative” is valuing, so a voice that is appreciative comes from an intention of seeking to value what it will hear;  it continues to inquire and is curious about learning more.  An appreciative voice is present to listen respectfully.  It is grounded and spacious, and non-judging.

An appreciative voice provides safety for others to speak their truths.  It is invitational and watchful.  An appreciative voice is unhurried and patient.  It can reframe situations to be helpful and resourceful.  It is flexible.  The appreciative voice is inclusive. It acknowledges diversity and identifies opportunities to offer possibilities to hold the space for transformational shifts to emerge.

Appreciative Voice - young girls talking on beach

The appreciative voice seeks to make meaning of the world in dialogue and in relationship with others.  The appreciative voice can expand knowledge, and build potential shared understanding.

For sure, the appreciative voice helps participants develop their own thoughts and feelings in a way that helps them see themselves in new ways.

A question that lingers is:

What happens when we refrain from using our appreciative voice?

My grandmother stressed to me: “It’s better to say nothing at all that say something negative or hurtful.” And that has been my default operating system.  Yet, in our society today my sense is that by being silent is not always the most helpful way, because if we choose to keep silent and not exercise our appreciative voice, we are not serving ourselves or others, and therefore not able to make any positive difference.

In using our appreciative voice, by framing our opinions as inquiry, we open up the space for dialogue and learning, providing the opportunity for more voices to be heard.  As Mo McKenna shared in her interview:  We do no harm in asking people what’s working for them. In asking what works for them, we are using our appreciative voice and open up the possibility for building understanding.

Appreciative Voice Guided by Principles

The appreciative voice is guided by principles that result in practices.  If you're keen to learn more, please tune into my podcast, Personal Reflections on Appeciative Voice – PS72.

 

Come up for AIR and Experience your Energy Soar – PS 71

Episode Introduction

My brilliant guest hails from Toronto, Canada. Maureen McKenna, affectionately known as Mo, is a woman of huge talent, energy, dynamism. She is highly acclaimed in her field of organization, community development and coaching, and is a leader in Appreciative inquiry not only in Canada, but globallycome up for air - Mo McKenna.

In this show, Mo shares stories about how she started in this field, where it’s taken her and where she’s headed, living to her strengths of curiosity and openness daily.  Mo has worked in just about all sectors: corporate, government agencies in education and healthcare.  Mo shares many of her inspirations in the links section below.  

Episode Background

I was keen to interview Mo Mckenna, as in my last few shows, her name kept entering into the conversation.  She was praised by Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis,as his mentor, episode PS 65 How an Intimate Conversation can Strengthen the Collective.  The show preceeding this one,  PS 70, Say Yes to Everything Results in Fun and Meaning with Wick van der Vaart from the Netherlands refers to Mo as great asset to AI Practitioner and an inspiration.  

Fortuitously, Mo and I finally met in person a couple of months ago in Cleveland, OH at Case Western Reserve University. We were co-facilitators at the Fourth Global Forum  – also a podcast episode – Ps68, Business leaders, Professors and Students Expose Flourishing Enterprises  

And it doesn’t stop there.  These synchronicities keep amplifying. We are both members of the Council of Practice with the David L.Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain college in Burlington VT. in the capacity of Field Practitioners.

Come up for Air

come up for air - framework

Mo is highly creative and innovative.  One of her creations is the AIR framework.  As she tells a story of its successful application in a hospital setting, I see it as framework for a conversation that guides people to a mutual appreciation of their past and helps them envision and plan an ideal future. The relational aspect of this framework facilitates understanding and generates new energy that is akin to when you come up for air and feel a huge relief, especially if you’ve felt silenced, misunderstood or not acknowledged for too long.

Concepts we Explore in this Episode

Appreciative Inquiry High Point Experience

In following the structure of an Appreciative Inquiry interview, I invite Mo to tell a high point story when she was fully engaged and delighted with her work.  She tells the story of working with The Toronto District School Board (TDSB).  It’s a terrific example of applying AI in a large system that invited all stakeholders to inquiry into “Student Success” while providing the Board members the opportunity to work on a real issue of strategic importance and learn about the process of AI at the same time.

High Performing Teams

Mo's own story harking back to her days at Xerox, and her reference to a study by Google finds that psychological safety is an enabler of high performing teams.  With Appreciative Inquiry, we invest time up front on inquiry – we don’t go straight to task.  We go back and learn from the past and get to know each other more deeply, becoming aware of each other’s needs.  That relational process creates psychological safety.

Learning Partners

We talk about the difference between being an “expert” and a “learning partner.”  As an outsider to a client system, we come in to be a learning partner, not an expert consultant. The client system has the expertise which is local knowledge of their own context and content.  We, as outsiders come with a process and a structure to guide the client to outcomes they want to accomplish.

Leadership Rises Up  from the Quiet Corners of an Organization

Mo and I share examples of how Appreciative Inquiry brings out the leadership is us all.  The psychological safety that an appreciative inquiry provides opens people up to each other's stories to listen more deeply, trust more openly and take risks.  People are encouraged to be more courageous, and Mo quotes her mentor, Jane Magruder Watkins:

You do no harm asking for what's working.

Links to Other Resources Mentioned in this Show

The newly designed, Appreciative Inquiry Commons

New York Times Article, What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Bliss Brown Seminal Appreciative Inquiry Summit, Imagine Chicago 

Professor Amy Edmondson TEDx Talk, Building a psychologically safe workplace

Gervase Bushe Article,  Appreciative Inquiry with Teams

Angela Ahrendts TEDx Talk, The Power of Human Energy

“Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.”  

Connect with Mo McKenna

Mo’s website http://www.returnonenergy.ca

Blog https://wordpress.com/post/momentsbymoment.com/1845

Twitter: https://twitter.com/momckenna

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/maureenmckenna%20

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maureen.mckenna.106

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

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Say Yes to Everything Results in Fun and Meaning – PS70

Episode Introduction

This interview is with an Appreciative Inquiry colleague from the Netherlands, Wick van der Vaart.  Wick founded a learning institute in Amsterdam. His Institute offers, among many other courses, a two-year certified post master program in the Social Psychology of Interventionism which includes the teaching and practice of Appreciative Inquiry.  In 2016, Wick became the editor-in-chief of AI Practitioner, International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry.  These two major contributions he makes to the world came about because, as Wick tells us in this interview he has a habit to say yes to everything.

Say Yes to Everything

say yes to everything - Wick van der VaartWick's first story about his predisposition to say yes to everything came out when I asked him if he found Appreciative Inquiry, or if Appreciative Inquiry found him.  Some years ago, he traveled to the USA from his homeland to enrol in a program at the National Training Laboratories (NTL) in Bethel, Maine.  He had signed up for the Organization Development Program only to find that course had been cancelled. As a replacement, he was offered a place in the Appreciative Inquiry Program which was taking place next door.  And, following his natural inclination, he said “yes.”

Wick summarizes this fortuitous happening as

I walked into the wrong room and Appreciative Inquiry found me.

Appreciative Inquiry as a Different Lens

As a lover of learning, and researcher at heart, Wick also went on to do the traditional Organization Development Program and when I asked about the difference between the two, he shared that Appreciative Inquiry was more fun and the relationships he established in that course have become some of his dearest colleagues and partners today.  The lens of Appreciative Inquiry reflected a worldview his parents impressed on him – to do well in the world and for the world.  Wick discovered that the approach of Appreciative Inquiry accomplishes all the expected goals of the traditional organization development approach – productivity, profit, and specific strategic imperatives – and so much more.

Over and above the traditional worldview that traditional organization development offers, where the dominant discourse is money and power, the Appreciative Inquiry worldview focuses on doing good by doing well.  Profits are made as businesses need, but from a culture nurtured by a flourishing mindset where leadership is holistic, the workforce is thriving and the environment is respected.  In such workplaces, the whole self is valued, and the relational space between people enables deliverables and productivity and profits to happen alongside the positive connections between people. Appreciative Inquiry produces high quality relationships very quickly. 

The AI Practitioner – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

say yes to everything - AI Practitioner JournalHere is another of Wick's “say yes to everything” stories.  In 2016, he said yes to taking on the roles of editor-in-chief and co-publisher of the esteemed international journal of Appreciative Inquiry, the  AI Practitioner (AIP).  Anne Radford had founded in London about 20 years ago.  Through Anne's leadership and shepherding, it remains the leading journal on current research and applications of Appreciative Inquiry in the world.  The co-publisher is the David L. Cooperrider Center in the Stiller School of Business at Champlain College, Vermont.  AIP is a peer-reviewed journal. Each issue has guest editors who prepare and widely distribute a “Call for Articles” for their issue. Nearly 300 people from around the world have contributed as guest editors and authors to AIP in recent years.

Favorite AI Principle

I like to ask my guests which of the AI Principles is their favorite.  After thinking long and hard, Wick offered, the Anticipatory Principle, and you'll hear that it took my breath away as it also happens to be mine.  I asked why, and Wick's story demonstrates this principle that states “image leads to action,” and, more powerfully, “we are pulled toward the images we hold of the future.”

Wick has participated in two ironman events.  Training and participating are not easy.  He has to work hard to continue the training.  He applies the Anticipatory Principle to help him continue.  As he trains, and during the event, he holds the image of crossing the finishing line.  This is what propels him forward. This image of the future empowers him to keep going.  This image of crossing the finishing line gives him the ability to find the will and strength within to help him achieve his dream.

In support of this Anticipatory Principle that inspires Wick and me, I quote these beautiful lines that I found on Wick's website:

“You must give birth to your images.

They are the future waiting to be born.

Fear not the strangeness you feel.

The future must enter you long before it happens.

Just wait for the birth,

for the the hour of the new clarity.”

– Rainer Maria Rilke

 Connect to Wick van der Vaart

Wick’s Institute: Institute for Intervention Studies

Wick's email:  instituut@instituutvoorinterventiekunde.nl

Twitter: www.twitter.com/InstituutvI

Facebook: www.facebook.com/instituutvoorinterventiekunde

AI Practitioner,  International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

 Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

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  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

Innovative Ways that Inspire Human Flourishing for All

When did you last come away from an experience that had such an impact on you that you were filled with a joy and a hope that transformed you?  You witnessed human flourishing and unity with others. You felt inspired by the conversations and connections. You felt alive and energized. You experienced a sense of wholeness, oneness and community cursing through your body and a peace and infinite hope for what else is possible.

I am filled with gratitude that I just came away from such an experience.  The event was the Fourth Global Forum held at The Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, at Weatherhead School of Managemhuman flourishing - diversityent at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.   Over 300 people were tasked to Discover Flourishing Enterprise: The Key to Great Performance.   We came from 29 different countries by invitation, from free will, to contribute our minds, our hearts, our skills, our knowledge.  We were curious and open and hopeful.  We shared stories, dreams and aspirations.

Diversity underpins Human Flourishing

We were a hugely diverse gathering of people: business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs, multi-millionaires and start-ups; professors and students; octogenarians and millennials; of spiritual traditions, or none.  We honored our diversity and our shared common belief: human flourishing exists at all levels: at the individual level, organizational and whole systems level.   We shared our stories, listened and asked questions. We dreamed together about what we can bring to life. We co-created designs and prototypes of possible futures;  and we rolled up our sleeves to develop deployment plans to turn our dreams and their prototypes into action.

Business as an Agent of World Benefit

human flourishing - AI Practitioner CoverIt was my first time at a Global Forum, even though through my Appreciative Inquiry Certification at Weatherhead, I became familiar with and practiced at interviewing business leaders on the topic of Business as an Agent of World Benefit (BAWB).  For this event, I volunteered as an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator.  To my absolute delight, I was invited to co-facilitate the working group from AIM2Flourish with Professor Lindsey Godwin, my hero and dear colleague from the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at Champlain College in Burlington, VT.

Appreciative Inquiry in Practice

To read more stories about the transformation that seemingly unlikely partnerships are delivering in the field of human flourishing,  please check out the special edition of the AI Practitioner  a publication of almost 20 years that focuses exclusively on the applications of Appreciative Inquiry across the globe.  This is a very generous gift from the owner, Wick van der Vaart, who co-edited this edition with David Cooperrider.

AIM2Flourish

human flourishing - AIM2Flourish Logo

AIM2Flourish was born out of the Third Global Forum in 2014.  Since then Roberta Baskin and Claire Summer (who as of June, 2017 now leads AIM2Flourish)  and a handful of business leaders and professors have taken the dream to made it flourish.  They have worked on an AIM2Flourish curriculum for university professors to link their students to enterprises that are not only doing well in the conventional business sense, but also doing good for their employees, their customers, the communities in which they operate, committed to human flourishing for all, including the planet.  Moreover, the really unique and cool contribution that AIM2Flourish offers its partners is to invite the participating business schools and their students to identify the enterprises whose innovations and contributions to the world are also addressing any one of the 17 the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Human Flourishing - Sustainable development goalsThe business students – the leaders of tomorrow – move beyond learning in the classroom into the field of real business.  Imagine the impact on them and the enterprises they interact with.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

I was human flourishing - prize trophydeeply honored to co-facilitate the AIM2Flourish working group comprising students, professors and business leaders from a number of South American countries.  This group included AIM2Flourish Prize Winners.  Their awards came from sharing the stories of the businesses who were helping to contribute to human flourishing by addressing some of SDGs.   The working group was brilliant and energized and committed to grow the AIM2Flourish mission by modeling leadership for 21st century and strengthening flourishing relationships across the plant.  I was struck with awe and filled with gratitude to watch them and hear them embrace the human flourishing - deployment planAppreciative Inquiry process with aid of their cell phones to translate English text into Spanish and then back into English to share their insights, dreams and plans.

And even though we had a language barrier, we communicated and shared delight and joy at our mutual understanding of each other.  We felt connected, united and impassioned by our shared commitment to amplifying human flourishing across the world.

 

Abundance of Talents, Generosity and Innovations

At this Fourth Global Forum every participant was a gift and there was an abundance of talent that spoke to our positive core of human flourishing, and wish I could name everyone, as every single person deserves credit. However, here's the line-up of outstanding keynoters and presenters, including David L Cooperrider, Chris Laszlo, Barbara Fredrickson, Tom Robinson, Jonathan Halpern, Jeff Hoffman, Shinzen Young, Jennifer Deckhard, Peter Senge, Julie Reiter, Fred Tsao.   Jon Berghoff was the masterful lead facilitator with his brilliant group of associates who made it such an outstanding event. Fun and practical improv tips were delightfully lead by Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez, co-founders of Improv HQ.  The talented graphic recorder was Jo Byrne,  Here is a sample of her talent.

And, I got to meet the charming Chuck Fowler, whose generosity and vision for a flourishing world started this all off.

Please, if you get the opportunity to attend the Fifth Global Forum in 2020, treat yourself to an experience that will fill you up and sustain you at many levels.  You will  enter into communion with those who care deeply about human flourishing and are actively leading positive change.

Opportunity to Hear Flourishing Voices in my Podcast Episode

There's also a podcast episode where you can hear the voices of participants at the the Fourth Global Forum:
Business Leaders, Professors and their Students Expose Flourishing Enterprises


How an Intimate Conversation can Strengthen the Collective – PS65

Episode Introduction

In this podcast episode, you will be opened – both heart and mind.  I think you will also feel the concepts expressed by Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis, through his loving choice of words, in your body.  What unfolds is that it's the intimate conversation you have with another that potentially changes you and the other, thereby strengthening humanity's collective capacity to bring about personal and social change and even transformation.

Social Media – a Space for Intimate Conversation

Intimate Conversation - Richard Manley-Tannis with black dogRichard and I first connected over Twitter several years ago discovering our shared interest in Appreciative Inquiry.  As a fun opening, we exchange our own stories of how we found each other.  Richard has been playing professionally online and active on Social Media since very early days.  Since 2013, he has held the position of Minister for Evangelism, Mission & Church Development, for the Winnipeg Presbytery, and, one of the many hats he dons in that capacity is to train lay teams about social media and evangelism with an Appreciative Inquiry lens.  Specifically, how the digital process can richly inform the relational process by connecting people, and strengthening collective energy for meaning making at many levels – such as in the realms of finance, education, politics, ideology, social change and more.  He shares stories of how care and compassion have been deeply felt by people who have only ever met online.

Stories are Foundational to Intimate Conversation

Intimate Conversation - A Deacon's Musing Blog LogoRichard's blog, A Deacon's Musing, is dense with valuable content – stories and findings from his research, fiction, poetry and images.  He's been doing this for over 10 years.  Richard undertakes in depth exploration of a vast range of topics that reflect his post modernist Christian lens.

During the show, I invite Richard to expand on a number of his posts.  The language invites exploration and curiosity.  He seeks to build generativity so that his readers grow after musing, reflecting and taking a step further: take action. He writes:

I celebrate that all human truths fail to fully appreciate a universe & reality that cannot confine the Holy. In A Deacon’s Musing, I meander & ruminates, reflect & challenge. Hopefully some of it makes sense & I invite you to ask questions, push me to clarify & listen with intention.

Paradoxically, Intimate Conversation is more Prevalent in the Secular Context than Christian Institutions.

At the time of our interview, Richard had just submitted the first draft of his PhD dissertation which he is doing with the Taos Institute and Tillburg University.  When I askedintimate conversation - older and younger man talking. about high points from his research findings, he shared that in the secular world he experiences far greater openness and willingness to share personal stories and intimacies.  His experience of practices such as Narrative Therapy and Appreciative Inquiry open people up to sacred conversations more than the traditional modernist practices of Christianity.

You will be opened up to the irony and paradox of Richard's findings:  deep, rich and generative conversations are not happening, as they might, in the Christian institutions whose mission is to spread the very values that are not always experienced in the day to day conversations among clergy and their parishioners.  What Richard seeks to do in his role through his social constructionist orientation and his post-modernist Christian lens is to bring such potentialities and energies to those who want to change the world.

A Joy

My interview with Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis was a joy to produce, and I wish you much joy in listening.

How to Connect to Richard

Richard's Blog:  A Deacon's Musing

Richard on Twitter

Richard on LinkedIn

Richard on Google+

Richard on Facebook

Samples of Richard Writings

Appreciative Leadership and Church Leadership

Intentional Community: Moving from Monologue to Dialogue

A Deacon’s Musing|Solidarity – by Richard Manley-Tannis

Our Addiction to Violence Conflict and the Johannine Community

Spirited Reflection: White privilege & lament

Greek Arbitration: Homer to Classical Athens

Faith Based Mediation: A Discussion

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Listen to Stitcher

Subscribe-iTunes-180x120

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If this episode was helpful or enjoyable to you,

  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

Communication Skills Training for High Performance

8 minute read

My intention with this post is to illustrate how solutions to many of our organizational problems to do with leadership and human relations are embedded in the organization itself.  Employees have the solutions to most problems.  What we focus on grows is the principle addressed in this post. There are examples from the corporate world to improve communications and build cultures of ownership, as well as examples from elsewhere.

There is a key principle in the organization change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry that posits powerfully, what we focus on grows.  So when your organization offers communication skills training, what does the trainer focus on, or what is the trainer asked to focus on? As a big generalization, it's most likely the focus is on the need to fix poor communications across the organization.  Or, the lack of communications, or negative communications, or stressful communications that permeate the culture, thereby impacting relationships inside and outside the organization.  When that kind of climate infiltrates the organization, productivity is impacted, customer retention and innovation decrease, and creativity and vitality start on a downward spiral. 

Existing Paradigm “if it ain't broke don't fix it”

Unfortunately, it's often not until situations get to that low level, when the pain really starts to hurt, that there's a cry for “we need communication skills training.”   That pain signals an urgency to “fix what's wrong with a training solution.”   Such a response is the classic view of traditional management: “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.”  It takes a “burning platform” to initiate any change. I contrast that with my dear grandmother's favorite saying:  “a stitch in time saves nine.”

Let me share a few stories to illustrate how communications and more broadly organizational culture is impacted by understanding this Appreciate Inquiry principle of what you focus on grows.

CEO Steps From the Dark into the Light

The CEO of a multimillion dollar, international company was in the office building elevator one day to go down to lunch from his executive suite on level 77.  Several floors down three employees stepped into the same elevator all very engaged in a conversation. They paid no attention to him – the CEO – standing in the dark at the back of the elevator.  As the elevator door closed with its three new occupants, he quickly became aware, their conversation was a series of complaints and grievances about the company of which he was CEO and founder.

This company had become a global company through a number of recent mergers, and the three employees in the elevator were complaining about impossible workloads, their unavailable bosses, slow systems, volumes of work and unhappy customers. They were focusing on their grievances and airing them in a public place without paying attention to who else might be in the elevator with them, and possibly listening.

When the elevator reached the the ground floor, the CEO stepped out from the dark into the light, expressing concern about their conversation.  It was extremely upsetting to him to hear his employees speak this way.  He wanted to hear more about their experiences.  He asked them to reach out to his assistant and get on his calendar that afternoon.

Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset

Before I continue, two questions:

Communication Skills Training Questions

  1. From your own world view, how do you think this story might continue?  From your own experience, if this had been you in the elevator and your CEO was standing at the back, how might this story continue in your organization?
  2. If you were the CEO and you heard your people speak about the organization in this negative way in public, what actions might you have taken?

Here’s what happened. They enter his office a few hours later.  He welcomes them to his office and serves tea.  He personally serves them tea.

  • He prides himself on being a gracious host and a fair person.
  • He says how grateful he is to hear their reality – how they're making sense of the current situation
  • He listens to their experiences, and acknowledges they are very different from what he hears is going on
  • He seeks to understand their perspectives
  • He admits shock and agrees he partly owns the problem
  • He requests their and everyone’s ownership in finding new ways to address the concerns they raise
  • He says he needs them and every member of the organization to co-create the future of the organization that he believes is possible and if everyone works together and communicates openly and honestly, it will happen

Communication Skills Training to Re-focus the Corporate Culture

He acted immediately.  The CEO took full responsibility.  It was time to re-focus and align the corporate culture.  He called in the HR Manager, requesting that communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors be sourced and made mandatory for every member of the organization at every level, from C Suite executives to mail room clerks.

I was fortunate to be hired as the change consultant by the CEO and the HR Manager to design a day long communication skills training focusing on professional behaviors and lead a team of facilitators to deliver the workshops in every department across the entire organization both nationally and internationally.

AMP - communication skills trainingWhat was different about this communication skills training from conventional training is that it was designed with the principles of Appreciative Inquiry.  This training was a highly interactive, experiential, strategically-focused workshop where the participants interviewed each other about the most positive communication experiences they had experienced in their lives – in this organization or elsewhere (a benchmarking exercise).  They identified what good communications and professional behaviors look like, sound like, feel like, smell like.  The workshop design focused at first on discovering the best of what exists in the organization already, when communications are at their best, because in the quieter corners of the organization there exists exceptionality and evidence of most effective and helpful communications.  By focusing on what works, the employees were able to co-create a new narrative around communications for high performance that came from their own world.  They did not fall into the narrative of trying to dissect the causes of poor communications and who's to blame.

It certainly wasn't training where the trainer stands at the front of the room presenting to a deck of slides, talking abstractly and theoretically about communications, contrasting bad and good communications, showing checklists of does and don'ts, and facilitating role plays.  There wasn't an “expert” at the front of the room telling them what they should do, who neglected to honor all the positive attributes that existed ready.

Taking Ownership for Implementation

After the employees had discovered best communication experiences through paired interviews, they formed small groups to share all their different stories of communications at their best, thereby identifying collective strengths, best practices and helpful resources.  Next, with all this new found data, they used their imaginations to envision their organization in the near future when all their collective strengths, capabilities and assets would be put into practice.   They were animated and excited about what they knew to be real and possible.  In the final part of the workshop, the participants self-selected into working groups to plan how to implement this vision they had co-created. They came up with specific projects and identified strategies, and goals, resources, timeframes, and resources that would result in improved communications throughout the company.  Communication skills training in this participative workshop format is sustained as the working groups continue to meet post workshop to bring the projects to fruition.

Collaborative Outcomes

What happened in that day long process and was repeated across the entire organization went beyond communication skills training.  Designing training with the Appreciative Inquiry approach, you can expect all of the following outcomes in addition to finding solutions for the “presenting problem”:

  • Highly engaged participants inspired by their own and their colleagues personal, and professional and organizational stories
  • Deepened appreciation of the collective strengths across the organization, with specific examples of golden innovations that already exist, perhaps in quiet unknown corners, or in other departments
  • Shared understanding about what more is possible and what success could and should look like in their department or organization
  • Seeds of ideas that can develop to become more widely integrated across the organization and with clients and vendors
  • A variety of initiatives and projects the participants come up with themselves during the workshop because they want them to happen and will safeguard them because they are invested
  • New knowledge networks and relationships
  • A work product that spreads the story possibly in multimedia format – video, digital, print – to communicate to those who were not physically present – to customers, vendors in newsletters or on the website
  • The potential for a truly transformational change
  • By osmosis, training in interviewing skills, listening skills, assertiveness skills, leadership, visioning, strategic planning are all experienced in one “communications skills training” workshop.
  • Based on all of the above, a sustained contagion effect that positively reinforces a culture where people can say, “we did it ourselves.”

In a nutshell, this collaborative way of communication skills training enables employees to find resources within themselves to bring to the situation.   Furthermore, when they feel supported by others, including coworkers and bosses, it leads to creating a nurturing and inviting environment where they feel safe at work resulting in greater quantity and quality of service.  Teamwork is enhanced, communication is improved, as people truly listen to one another and respect each other. They experience moments of care from others.  As a result, the focus shifts to more open conversation, where shared values get brought into the open and developing individual and organizational strengths becomes a focus which ultimately moves the organization towards resilience and a more empowered workplace.

One of my areas of specialization to is build custom training programs framed with the Appreciative Inquiry worldview.  My book, Appreciative inquiry for Collaborative Solutions, (2010) John Wiley has 21 such workshops.

What you Focus on Grows

I digress briefly to further illustrate this Appreciative Inquiry principle, what you focus on grows  with some examples not only at work, but more broadly in life, at home and at play.  communication skills training - meditating woman

Are you aware of what you enjoy focusing on?  What are the pleasures and treasures you experience when you invest your full energy – your emotions, your thoughts and actions on activities and with people that matter to you that bring you happiness AND meaning.  When you experience these meaningful and totally absorbing activities, you’re in the zone.  You’re so engrossed or absorbed that you lose track of time.  You are in the flow state that is a luscious state of feeling at one with the activity.

Musicians, writers, photographers, painters, poets and dancers know this experience, as do scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes,  students, and lovers.  In fact, we all know it.  It’s the great gift of being fully present and in the moment with the activity.  It implies you have a degree of competence or a aptitude for the activity and at the same time there’s a degree of challenge that keeps you engaged.  Because it it were too easy, you’d be bored and move on to focus on something different.  If it were too hard, you'd be stressed out and you'd feel de-energized.

How would it be if we could get into that zone more consciously?  Imagine being able to communicate with greater consciousness because you know to focus on what you want Vs what you don't want. What if you could create that sense of heightened and engaged performance in the workplace a high percentage of the time?

Celebrate What's Right

A side story to further illustrate what you focus on grows:  Dewitt Jones, a photographer and motivational speaker, formerly with the National Geographic Magazine, created a beautiful video, Celebrate with What’s Right with the World.  I use it in my Appreciative Inquiry trainings. The entire video speaks to this topic of what you focus on grows among other fabulous messages.  I’d like to highlight two specific stories in Dewitt’s video.

puff balls communication skills trainingOn one particular photo shoot, he bookmarks a scene he wants to come back to to photograph.  It’s a wide open field as far as the eye can see of yellow dandelions.  They are so densely packed it looks like a yellow blanket.  When he finally returns to it a few days later, all the yellow flowers have gone.  It now looks like a drab green field of weeds.  Dewitt chooses not to focus on the loss of the yellow flowers.  He focuses on the new image nature has provided him.  His focus turns to transparent “puff balls” that are laid out before him.  His vision of the photo he had in mind was gone.  Did he get annoyed with the scene, himself or nature?  No, he didn’t focus on what went wrong, or what lost or what had gone.  He focused on what he now had. Glorious puff balls that when the sun rays shone through them they offered him beautiful images to photograph that he had previously could not not have imagined.  He focussed on what was to be celebrated in this new situation, not on what he had lost.

Another memorable scene took place in a tiny Irish village – Dewitt was on assignment to photograph an elderly woman who was a legendary weaver.  He was in awe of her craft and her generosity in allowing him to wander around and take as many photos as he wanted on whatever subjects took his fancy.  He tells the story that he thought he’d be smart and asked her what she thought about when she was weaving.  She looked at him, and, in a very humble way replied:  “I don’t think of anything.  When I weave, I weave.”  Such a beautiful example of being graciously in the moment, in the zone and focusing on what she was best at doing.

The Craving to be Appreciated

sunflowers - communication skills trainingTalking about a field of yellow flowers, I am reminded of traveling in Tuscany in Italy and being awestruck by fields of Sunflowers.   If you’ve ever gazed across a field of sunflowers, you know how breathtaking it is.  You feel like jumping for joy.  Their big, bright yellow heads all face the same direction to form a bright yellow blanket of sunny faces. That’s what’s so special about sunflowers, They actually turn their heads to face the sun.  They follow the sun from dawn to dusk.  They  grow in the direction of light and warmth, just as we humans.  As sunflowers turn to the sun for light and energy, so too, do we humans grow and light up with great energy in a field of abundant, sunny appreciation and positivity.  We literally light up when basked with appreciation.  I am reminded of the quote by American Psychologist William James:

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

So if we focus on what serves us well and is energizing to us, we flourish.  With more positivity in our lives, we are likely to create a life that enables us to flourish rather than languish.

Communication Skills Training

Recently,I had the privilege to work with a very large, global corporation, who wanted to bring greater diversity and inclusion into their workplace culture. To make that a reality, we did some fabulous work to identify what topic would focus the conversations and gather the best stories of diversity and inclusion that were  already being lived out  in the organization.  Through an appreciative inquiry process,  we worked out the best topic to focus on was “Freedom to step outside of our comfort zones.”  Why?  Because what they had already found out from the conversations they’d had during the research, data gathering phase is that when people in the organization were free to be themselves, they felt included and their diversity was accepted and celebrated.  So by shining the light and focusing on the best stories of diversity and inclusion enabled acts of diversity and inclusion, which then facilitated greater acts of diversity and inclusion and it began to  grow more diversity and inclusion, because, as I mentioned earlier – this Appreciative Inquiry Principle of what you focus on grows states that the topics or subjects we choose to put our attention to, or study, are fateful in the sense that  they not only determine what we learn, but they actually create it.

Through our Appreciative Inquiry and positivity lens , we consciously seek out that which we want more of, not less—hence what we focus on are the solutions and outcomes we wish to create. There are many examples of this principle in all walks of life, from raising children, to evaluating employee performance, to attending to health and wellness.

Do we place our attention and energy on the behaviors and outcomes we want in our children, co-workers, and diet and exercise regimes in order to create that which we desire, or do we place our attention on the things we want less of?

When we place sincere effort on the attributes we want to see, and can let go of those that no longer serve or support, we have greater chance of success in achieving our desired outcomes.

Greater Harmony in Relationships

Heres’ another example: If you wanted to reduce conflict in a team, and you invested effort into inquiring about their conflicts, the causes, the situations and how often they arose, the conversation would be all about the conflicts.  The team members would be replaying scenes of conflict in their minds.  Would you be helping them to move beyond the analysis of their conflict towards envisioning the possibility of building relationships with greater harmony when conflict was absent? Unlikely.

Teamwork Communication Skills TrainingIf the focus of the inquiry were to shift to  times when the members truly listened to each other, when they were respectful and supportive of each other, when they were present to each other with compassion, their minds would replay very different scenes.  They would be reconnecting with times when they were there for each other with interest and care.

So, when you inquire into deficient situations, you learn more about the causes the deficit – in this case causes of “conflict,” and it doesn’t help anyone learn anything about what it’s like when conflict is absent. When you study someone’s conflict, what opportunity do you have to learn about their “respectful, compassionate relationships?”

Similarly, if you studied “fear,” what would you learn about “connection”?

How deeply programmed are we to focus on the problem side of life Vs the developmental side of life?  In our workplaces, how do we see our employees and our leaders? It is all embedded in the beliefs we have which are reinforced through our language. The language we use shapes our narrative and therefore our reality.

Let me leave you with a question to ponder:  what are you growing in your organization – where is your focus?

I hope I have inspired you with some ideas and strategies about how you can increase greater participation and ownership in your investment in training in  your workplace through paying attention to where you focus your attention.  The more your focus on what you want to create in the world and what you value, the more you will create it.  When we seek to look for the best in ourselves and others, we are likely to find it. Appreciative Inquiry searches for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.

My Gift To You:

How to Enliven Communication Skills Training

A highly participatory, interactive way to improve communications

Communications-Skills-Training-Workshop-3D-Cover

As a result of this free training workshop template, you (and your participants) will be able to:​

  • Describe excellent communication from many different perspectives
  • Identify the behaviors that demonstrate excellent communication skills
  • Demonstrate communication skills for high performance
  • Commit to activities that will continue develop skills
  • Contribute ideas for projects to improve communications across the organization

This free communication skills training is a workshop design that establishes what communication looks like when it’s at its best by tapping into individual and collective strengths and entrusting participants with positive results. It’s a benchmarking exercise that discovers what is already working well in your organization and other organizations, and what else needs to happen (or change) to deliver high performance.

Why Relationships are Key in Marketing Consulting Services – PS62

Episode Introduction – Marketing Consulting Services

In this episode, I switch roles.

I enjoyed being interviewed by Amanda Lankart, a masters student at the University of Pennsylvania in the Organization Development & Change Program, where she also learned about Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  The topic of the interview was “marketing consulting services.”  After the interview, Amanda kindly sent me the transcript and also the MP3 file. As Amanda's intention in conducting this interview was to share it with her classmates, I thought it could be a helpful story for other consultants starting out in the organization development and change field.  Amanda graciously gave me permission to publish it as a podcast episode.  Toward the end of her interview, we speak  in general about Appreciative Inquiry, as that’s my area of specialization.   

Episode Background

My interviewer, Amanda Lankart, is a former Marine Corps officer.  Currently, Amanda works as a supervisor for a government agency.  When Amanda first first contacted me for an interview,  she was studying Appreciative Inquiry  in the Masters Program.  Marketing Consulting Services - Amanda Lankart PictureShe had become intrigued by AI  and saw the value in the approach as a change method, and the topic of appreciative leadership. Even at that early stage, Appreciative Inquiry had become more than an assignment to her, as the more Amanda learned about AI,  the more eager she was to get the opportunity to talk to me to learn about my personal experience as an AI practitioner and about AI in general.

Unfortunately, due to schedule constraints, the timing didn’t work for that first interview, but I was very willing to be interviewed for Amanda’s next course, Marketing Organization Development.

Marketing Consulting Services – What Works Best

In today’s global marketplace, having a great digital coach has taken me as an Appreciative Inquiry Consultant and Practitioner to page one on Google, meaning that's where my brand, Positivity Strategist, shows up when people search for my area of service: Appreciative Inquiry.  By having a strong presence on the web through content creation- blog posts, podcast shows, speaking and training videos –  I’ve been able to position myself as a leader in my field by marketing consulting services as an Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, trainer and coach.  My marketing strategy has been to produce high quality content that people can find when they search for “appreciative Inquiry.”  

Valuing Relationships

The common thread throughout the interview is that as consultants we are in the business of growing and strengthening relationships.   I tell the story that when I came to the US from Australia, I had to start from zero in marketing my consulting services..  As I knew no one, other than my boyfriend at the time,  I attended networking meetings to meet people. I found associate work that way.  I also attended courses to align myself with thought leaders in my field and volunteered to work with them.  That is how I came to develop my reputation as a thought leader in Appreciative Inquiry.

Sample Questions in this Interview

Listen in to the interview to find out my responses to questions such as:

  • How do you market your services and–so where do you get most of your business?
  • How would you say your marketing strategy has changed since you first started?
  • What approaches to marketing your services have proven to be most effective and why do you think that is?
  • Would you say any of the approaches that you’ve tried have not been effective?
  • What unique challenges have you faced in marketing your services based on that kind of consulting that you do, and how have you met those challenges?
  • So, what trends exist, if any, that might be changing the way consulting services are marketed?
  • So based on your experience, do you have any other advice for prospective consultants regarding marketing, anything we haven’t discussed yet?

Lifelong Student

I have a strong value around learning, and that has also driven my marketing philosophy.  Staying open and curious and respecting all different perspectives keeps me growing.  I learn from what works and what doesn't. I chose to to focus on what works to develop my capacity to be of service.

Impact on my Interviewer

Amanda states that our discussion was not only relevant to marketing, but also helpful to her as she continues to explore AI and strive to change her mindset to focus on the good, the strengths, and build upon that in her  life and career to influence others to do the same.

Impact on You

I'd love to know your your thoughts after listening to Amanda's interview.  What have you found works for you as you grow your consulting practice?  Why not contribute to the conversation by leaving your comment below?

Connect with Us

Amanda on LinkedIn  

Robyn on LinkedIn

Peacock Image by Michael Hacker

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

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Ways of Rekindling Life’s Enchantment, with Michelle Strutzenberger – PS61

Episode Introduction

A couple of months ago, I received a beautiful email from this show’s guest, Michelle Strutzenberger, announcing she was embarking on new starts and opening up new possibilities.  After 15 years at Axiom News, where she’d worked as journalist and curator, she was moving on. Among her aspirations was to focus her talents in the area she had wanted to develop further: children’s book authoring.

Michelle’s email touched me – she’s magical with words.  And, I have been a fan of Michelle’s work and Axiom News.  Over the past years, Michelle had written a couple of pieces about my innovations in Appreciative Inquiry.  We had this personal connection.  Our lives had touched.  On the one hand, I was surprised and sad that she was would no longer be with Axiom.  And on the other hand, I was admiring that she was following her heart by venturing into new territory.  As I didn’t want Michelle to disappear from my life, I reached out and we agreed to record our chat as a podcast.

Episode Overview – Rekindling Life’s Enchantments

Life's Enchantment, Michelle StrutzenberbergerIn our preparation call some weeks before recording the episode, Michelle and I touched on a number of possible topics for our recorded conversation.  Towards the end, Michelle offered the topic of “rekindling life’s enchantment.”  It spoke to me and felt right as a topic to explore together.

In this episode, we start on topic, and then meander through the conversation in a free-flowing, organic way. We, in fact, cover a number of topics including Michelle’s 15 years with Axiom News as a generative journalist.  We reflect on what makes journalism generative.  Michelle introduces her new book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River that is seeking a publisher right now.  I inquire into the the craft of writing and how it calls to Michelle.  

We then circle back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment” towards the end of the show when Michelle offers some delightful way to intentionally reconnect with magic, whimsy, mystery in our lives.

What Might “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment” Awaken in Us?

Michelle recalls the enchantment she and her twin created for themselves when they first arrived in Canada as immigrant children.  Even in times of uncertainty, they discovered the gift of being awake to, and seeing the spark, the allure in the conditions they found themselves in at different times.  Despite bouts of heartache, and sadness and fear, they were open and alive to the delight of life.  The enchantment – the magic and mystery and charm and whimsy – emanated from the reality of living life fully.

Intentionally Creating Conditions for Life’s Enchantment

If you find yourself somewhat numb and in a rut, or feeling fearful or threatened by your current circumstances, you can intentionally set out to create conditions that will find yourself delighting in life again, or reconnecting with your whimsical side.  In fact, it is most likely that when facing adversity, the greatest opportunity to defend against the adversity or suffering is to rekindle enchantment and find new delight in life again.  

The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle’s second book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River features the wonder, excitement and adventures of four children as they unearth a most surprising treasure – the secret talents of their neighbours.  The book is very much inspired by the spirit and intention of asset-based community development, the work of Peter Block and John McKnight of Abundant Community in creating abundant communities and the worldview and practice of Appreciative Inquiry – both participatory change methodologies that shine the light on strengths, capabilities and imaginings of what is possible.  

Please visit the book's website to read a Portion of Chapter 10: A Heart Cleaned Out in a Hurricane

Building on Strengths and Dreams

In creating her book, Michelle’s own strengths and her ability to dream come to life.  Her story explores what might be possible when communities thrive and where people lift each other up, honoring their gifts and talents.  It invites what’s possible when we see the gifts in each other.  What delights is that by lifting up everyone’s gifts in a community, wonder, adventure, excitement is sparked.

Influence of Generative Journalism

Linking back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment”, I asked Michelle if she always saw the world this way.  She has no hesitation in expressing her gratitude for her work as a generative journalist at Axiom News.  This type of journalism complemented her own natural talents and worldview as a writer.  Take a look at Michelle’s post listed below to learn more about generative journalism.

During her 15 years at Axiom News, the team with founder and CEO, Peter Pula pushed up against watchdog journalism, sparking new possibilities about how journalists go about their work.  As generative journalists, the inquiry is about people’s strengths, assets and what else is possible.  They seek to find ongoing dialogue and partnerships to generate change and deepen relationships through a soul connection.  

A Meandering Conversation – A Calling to Create

Together we touch on other a number of other subjects such as the creative act of writing. If it’s a calling, it implies one just has to do it.  For Michelle it’s, in fact, the creative process – the act of bringing something new into creation – which calls or compels her.  To quote Michelle:

A sense of calling…

A calling is something you discover, not something you choose.  It’s about responding.

Circling back to Our Main Topic – Rekindling Life’s Enchantment.

After meandering far because I followed my curiosity into Michelle’ significant contribution to the world, we circle back to our topic, “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment”.  

Michelle offers a number of ways to find the delight, mystery and reverence akin to a sense of life’s enchantment.  Not only can we create the enchantment through our own experiences, as she and her twin did, and most children do, she offers that we can be nourished by the enchantment of others through their art, poetry, writing, music and a variety of performance media.  

A surprising twist that makes beautiful sense is when enchantment comes to us because others find us enchanting. For example, a child responds to us with wonder; or, in early stages of romance when life’s wonder opens up.

Michelle offers also that we can rekindle life’s enchantment in the knowing that God always delights in us.  When we have that faith, we are not dependent on others.  Our spirit is freed and allows us to delight in all that is around us.  

How to Connect with Michelle

MIchelle's website about The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle on Twitter

Michelle on Facebook is Newshemayim

Michelle on LinkedIn

 

A Tiny Selection of Michelle’s Writing

Decoding a Generative Story

What if Marginalized Neighbourhoods Crafted Their Own Handmade, Place-based Economies?

Young Man Journeys to a Meaningful Life, Disability and All

Books Mentioned

Header Image

Norman Rockwell ‘Land of Enchantment' mural 1934

Attribution:  Plum leaves on Flickr

Let's Stay Connected

It's always great to hear from you. Please connect with me to ask questions or leave comments about this episode or the podcast in general, and there are several good ways to do this:

  • Share your questions and ideas on the Podcast Feedback page
  • Leave a voice message here, and we may feature your question on an upcoming episode
  • Leave a comment on the show notes below

Help Spread the Message of Positivity!

I would be extremely appreciative if you would subscribe, rate or review our Positivity Strategist podcast. Your ratings and comments will help a lot to spread the message! Here is a guide to writing a quick review, click on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Listen to Stitcher

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  • I invite you to share it using the social media buttons on the bottom of this page.
  • I'd love it if you can leave a quick review, on iTunes and Stitcher.

A World Inquiry: The Impacts of Appreciative Inquiry across the World, with Ada Jo Mann – PS059

Episode Introduction

I'm excited to talk to Ada Jo Mann about her long relationship with Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She is a pioneer of AI going back to the early 1990s.  Ada Jo was one of the co-creators of the Global Excellence in Management (GEM) Initiative, a founder of the early AI Consulting Group, a co-creator of AI World conferences and AI summits around the world.  Ada Jo and I don’t only talk about the past. I jump straight into a current global initiative conceived by Ada Jo.  She begins by sharing with us her impetus to conduct a World lnquiry on Appreciative Inquiry.

Episode Overview – World Inquiry into Appreciative Inquiry

In this episode, I invite Ada Jo to respond to three questions that we’ve designed to bring many voices from around the world together to share stories of how Appreciative Inquiry has been impacting lives for almost 30 years.  It’s a hugely exciting initiative.  Our intention is to elevate the discourse of AI to a new level using social media to communicate and broadcast the breadth of Appreciative Inquiry and to highlight the growing numbers of applications through personal stories.

The World Inquiry invites folks from all over the world to share their experiences of how they have been touched by Appreciative Inquiry and help create a viral message of positive change.  We're asking folks to record their stories on video (using mobile devices), upload them to the web and be made available  on the soon to be  re-vitalized AI Commons.  They will serve as a rich, searchable database for doctoral students, AI practitioners, AI trainers and consultants, and anyone interested in first hand reports of the power of Appreciative Inquiry to create individual and collective positive change. 

Question 1: Finding Appreciative Inquiry

How, where, when and by whom were you introduced to Appreciative Inquiry? What compelled you most about it? What is it about AI that you connect with most?

World Inquiry - Ada Jo Mann

In listening to Ada Jo, you will learn about her amazing and fabulous contributions to the world.  She began her long career in international development as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad. Years later she helped create and then became the first Director of the Small Project Assistance Program, a 30 year partnership between USAID and the Peace Corps. After Peace Corps she moved on to USAID where she met and worked with David Cooperrider, creator of Appreciative Inquiry to whom she was introduced by Jane Magruder Watkins, another tour de force in Appreciative Inquiry. Ada Jo and David created the GEM Initiative, a seven year multi-million dollar grant from USAID to improve the organizational capacity of non-governmental organizations in all regions of the world using Appreciative Inquiry. GEM served as a living laboratory for the development of Appreciative Inquiry

Ada Jo, as so many others who “find” AI, reflects that it was like a “home coming.”  Questions she had been asking right at the outset of her long career were implicit in the world view of AI.  Questions such as

  • How might we build on the strengths of this community?
  • What if we were to include all stakeholders in the vision?
  • How can we include all the different perspectives in the design of this new program?

Question 2:  Appreciative Inquiry Impact on You

Where and how has AI made a difference in your life and work? How has AI changed things for you? How has AI brought out the best in you personally and or professionally? (In the way you work, do business, in your family, etc.) Please tell a story that  highlights how AI has had an impact on your life and/or work.

Ada Jo shares many stories in response to these questions. If you want to learn about some of the history of Appreciative Inquiry, listen in.  She also refers to a number of synchronicities that have touched her, and right at the outset of our conversation, she comments on how the interview I conducted with Tom Myers on Synchronicity as an Emergent AI Principle rings true for her.

Two key principles  of AI stand out for me as I listened to Ada Jo:  Questions are fateful;  and the act of storytelling.

Questions are Fateful

The questions you ask start the change.  We call it the Simultaneity Principle.  Ada Jo tell us that it was in fact a question put to her by another AI colleague, Neil Samuels at the end of an Appreciative Inquiry gathering that provoked her to initiate the World Inquiry on Appreciative Inquiry.  Neil asked Ada Jo if she'd followed up on all the work that she had done during the GEM project.  That question was the impetus to make it happen!

The Act of StorytellingWorld Inquiry - people networked

When we tell stories, we tap into the collective
unconscious. Storytelling is universal, it crosses all cultures.  The oral tradition is one of the oldest, and as part of the Appreciative Inquiry experience, sharing your own story with others opens up the possibilities for deep connection. For some people talking about personal strengths may be difficult, but telling a story of what's working well and how you were part of that comes out more easily and taps into all cultures.   When you experience that collective energy at AI Summit, it's truly magical.

Question 3: Your Innovations

One of the beauties of AI is that it can be adapted and re-imagined depending upon the needs of  the situation in which it is being applied. Have you had an opportunity to create innovations to the original 4-D process? What did your innovations look like? How have you used them? Please share an example of your innovations using AI.

Throughout this interview, Ada Jo's many contributions and innovations are woven into her stories.  A few more include the book she collaborated on with Diana Whitney, Jen Silbert and Dawn Dole called Positive Family Dynamics.  The book came about because participants in workshops and summits would say “I could use this with my family.”  Listen in to how Ada Jo describes the collaborative process of creating this book.

Other innovations include the founding of the AI Consulting Group which is no longer, but served a number of global consultants to collaborate and stay connected in the early days.  Significantly, AI Consulting sponsored the first AI Global Conference in Baltimore, MD in 2001.  The design of that first conference has remained as a standard for all future conferences and a precursor to AI Summits.

When I asked Ada Jo what she valued about herself, she talked about her strengths as an opportunity finder and creator of innovative designs and solutions together with her drive and organizing skills to get things done.   What a combo!  I certainly recognize the visionary who makes it happen. With Ada Jo, it's not an either /or, but a both/and!

The Poet – Creator of Heroic Crown Sonnet

As a final treat in this episode, I invite Ada Jo to recite her latest Heroic Crown Sonnet.  She explains what this special kind of sonnet is.  Her first composition about her time with the Peace Corps was very well received.  The one she recites for us is entitled the Appreciative Inquiry Crown.

Ada Jo has kindly allowed me to share her Appreciative Inquiry Crown.  What a joy to be able to read this sonnet – still a work-in-progress. Please open up the Positivity Lens Reveal  below to view.

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You'll get a thrill out of this Heroic Crown Sonnet whether you are experienced in Appreciative Inquiry, or reading about AI for the first time.  Ada Jo captures the essence, the spirit, the process and all the possibilities that can emerge.  Please enjoy!  If you'd like to be in touch with Ada Jo, her LinkedIn profile is available below and her email is provided in the footer of the PDF.

How to Connect to Ada Jo and Links Mentioned

Ada Jo's Website: Innovation Partners International

Ada Jo on LinkedIn: Ada Jo Mann

Ada Jo's Book:  Positive Family Dynamics

Articles by Ada Jo and Collaborators

Confessions of an AI-coholic

Collaborative Conversations, Creating Positive Family Dynamics

Ethiopia Summit

Liberia International Development In AI Practitioner

International Development GEM – A Positive Revolutions in AI Practitioner


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Eleven Helpful Posts on Being Resilient

Being Resilient Seems of the Time

I’m not sure if it’s my current state of being, my generation, or the Zeitgeist tapping into our collective consciousness, because a curiosity around “resilience” just keeps coming up for me.

Being resilient as a human being, as a citizen, as a community builder and a facilitator helping others find their own resilience, I personally feel a need to dig a little deeper into what it means to be resilient and consider how one might develop the capacity.

I feel blessed, as the worldviews of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Open Space inform who I am and what I do.  The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry and the science of positive emotions help to reframe many problems into opportunities and roadblocks into possibilities.  Open Space helps us make sense of complexity and chaos, knowing that all systems are self-organizing and out of chaos order emerges.

Paradoxes Keep us Vigilant and Open to Learning

Being Resilient - Pebble on BeachWe are living in transformational times. We’re continuously developing as human beings and our consciousness is also evolving to ever higher spheres. While history is witness to such progress, so does it also remind us that contradictions are ever present. The paradoxes serve to keep us vigilant and open to learning. Even though violence and suffering confront us in the world, our capacity to focus on possibilities and hope is equally available.

I remember as a student at Sydney University studying Marxism and Feminism in my Philosophy class, I went to my tutor deeply deeply conflicted because I truly appreciated the worldviews of these two “… isms” in my life, and, at the same time, I really enjoyed my capitalist lifestyle, wearing makeup and a bra. My tutor counseled me: being aware of the contradictions was what mattered. What decisions I make and actions I take is on me.

Overcoming Adversity

When faced with challenges, whether through personal loss, tragedy, illness or environmental factors, most of us, of healthy mind, find ways to recover and move on. We can find inspiration in the stories of others overcoming adversity to find joy, satisfaction and meaning in life despite incredible odds. You may be aware of inspiring individuals in your own circles; and there are well-known public figures, for example, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Franklin Roosevelt, Viktor Frankl, whose stories of overcoming adversity show how being resilient has been a strong factor in their flourishing.

Appreciative Inquiry Interview on “Being Resilient”

Unfortunately, we see in our neighborhoods, or on our screens conflicts, injustices, devastation, waste, and suffering that still exist in our worlds, and at the same time we see evidence of people rebuilding their lives, taking actions, forgiving, healing, rising strong with love and hope, seeing beyond the fear and despair.  [As a side, if the topic restorative narratives interests you, please take a take a look and listen to this episode of Positivity Strategist Podcast, with Roberta Baskin.  You'll find a number of online media that focus on restorative narratives to shine the light on how even in pain and suffering, there are many more beautiful stories of hope and resilience and possibility].

To experience an Appreciative Inquiry Interview on the topic of Being Resilient, open the Positivity Lens Reveal below to download the PDF.

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You will reconnect with a time when you experienced being resilient or witnessed resilience in another.  In acknowledging your own experiences, you will find strengths that will help you recognise what capacities and resources you have that will support you to build resilience for any potential set-backs.

Eleven Posts On Being Resilient

As I reflected on the quality of being resilient, I did a little research. Then I decided to share these links, with a quote from each, rather than try to summarize. May they serve you well.

  1. What is Resilience on the American Psychological Association: “Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”
  2. The Road to Resilience published by the American Psychological Association : “Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience.”
  3. Happiness Unpacked: Positive Emotions Increase Life Satisfaction by Building Resilience by Cohn, Fredrickson et al on US National Library of Medicine “Change in resilience mediated the relation between positive emotions and increased life satisfaction, suggesting that happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better, but because they develop resources for living well.”
  4. Building Resilience by Martin Seligman on Harvard Business Review: “We discovered that people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. (“It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.”)
  5. Measuring Resilience: A Review of 3 Scales on Positive Psychology Program: “It is important to note that most resilience measures have been developed, researched and used in the West and when the scales are applied to the non-western population, validity and reliability issues arise.”
  6. Putting a Positive Spin on a Negative Situation by Laura Hamilton on Psychics Universe “Have you ever noticed that some people even in the face of tragedy still see something positive in the experience?”
  7. The Five Best Was to Build Resiliency by Jessie Sholl on Experience Life: “…receiving and appreciating kindness from others may be just as important as offering it up, because gratitude turns out to be an important part of resiliency…”
  8. Five Science-backed Ways to Build Resilience by Kira M. Newman on Greater Good: “Even for the relatively self-aware and emotionally adept, struggles can take us by surprise. But learning healthy ways to move through adversity—a collection of skills that researchers call resilience—can help us cope better and recover more quickly, or at least start heading in that direction.”
  9. How to Develop your Resilience on WikiHow to do anything:  “Increasing your resilience can be attained by coping healthfully with difficult emotions and situations, engaging in resilient actions, thinking resiliently, and maintaining your resilience in the long-term.”
  10. Resilience at Work by Barry Winbolt:  “The key here is that resilience is not a passive quality, but an active process. How we approach life, and everything it can throw at us, has a massive impact on our experience.”
  11. Inspiring Stories of Resilience by Chris Johnstone on Positive.News:  “What is it that helps resilience happen? For each person there may be choices they make, resources they turn to, strengths they draw upon or insights they apply.”

I'd love for you to share your story or thoughts on the topic of “being resilient” in the comments section below.