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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.

 

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:

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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.

 

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The New Human and the New World – What does that Mean to You? – PS 64

Episode Introduction: The New Human and the New World

In this episode with Dr Lynda Klau, I continue on the theme of exploring neuroscience and why it is such a hot topic and creating an explosion of curiosity in all kinds of fields. It’s become significant beyond medical science into in the field of day-to-day human development and spirituality, helping us understand how working with knowledge of our brain, along with our mind, body, heart and relationships are creating the new human and the new world.

Lynda shares with us why she is so excited about neuroscience and how it’s impacting her, her clients and the world, and, how together we have the potential to co-create the new human and the new world.

It couldn't be more appropriate for Lynda to chat with me on this topic because she is the founder and director of LIFE UNLIMITED:The Center for Human Possibility. She is called to do this work in helping herself and others evolve to higher levels of development. She is a licensed psychologist, coach and speaker with over two decades of training and experience, working with all kinds of people. New human. Portrait Lynda KlauIn her practice, she draws from a formidable toolbox of cutting-edge modalities: mindfulness meditation and the present moment, breath and voice work, guided imagery, communication and relational intelligence, and so much more. She’s so well researched across many disciplines, Eastern and Western traditions, and offers a truly holistic, integrative perspective to her clients. I ‘ve personally know Lynda for 15 years, and I know her to be the real deal.

A Calling to Help Evolve the New Human

As a start to our conversation, I express my curiosity about what might have been some of the threads in Linda’s earlier development and professional experiences that have lead her to shift her work to include the study of the brain – including her particular orientation, interpersonal neurobiology – and why it’s so significant at this time. She shares an intimate story of experiencing a profound shift during a workshop when an acute awareness of self-love, love for all, and an overwhelming sense of participating fully in life struck her. It was such an epiphany that she knew in that moment she wanted to dedicate her life to helping others find that inner spirit. A guiding vision for her own life to live in this place of deep connection to her unconditioned self was established. Over time she has come to bring her work to help create the new human, as she coins it.

Who is this New Human?

The new human has evolved to show characteristics such as kindness, compassion, love. The new human is connected spiritually to herself and others. She experiences the joys of silence; feels safe and whole; is trusting, aware and values the importance of choosing.  She knows the power of her new brain to help her choose her life.New human - women contemplating on cliff

The New World

What’s so simple yet so significant about Lynda’s message is that it’s not enough to be an individual to have made the choice about living life as a new human and being fully present to life. What is even more uplifting is people taking their new awareness and choosing to be together, to collaborate and co-create the new world. This shift is one from just needing to survive to flourishing.  An understanding how our brain, mind and relationships can be differentiated and integrated to develop this new human is what will bring on the new world, where we will flourish.

From Fear to Freedom

On Lynda’s website you can learn a lot about her perspective on making the transition from fear to freedom. It’s been told many times that fear is the driver of the instinctive old brain which is located low in the back of skull and the emotional /social brain, the limbic located in the the mid-brain. The new brainlocated in the front of the skull, the neocortex is there, in conjunction with the mind and relationships to help us evolve ourselves and support others to do the same in a collaborative way. We can make this a shift becausewe now have the capacity to pause, reflect and choose. We can be free.  When we know we can choose, we use our whole brain capacity, and our whole self, transitioning through the emotions of fear to to integrating the front part of the brain with awareness of being able to make different choices.

Fear in our modern world is not provoked by the orange and black striped big cat in the jungle. It comes in the form of burnout, overload, stress, overwhelm, relationship breakdowns – we are back surviving as a way of living, instead of being aware of our how we have the brain, the body, mind and heart to truly flourish.

Transformational Moments Invite Us to Do the Work.

Opportunities that make us recognize what holds us back and keeps us small come in different ways. Being open to them is what creates the change. Transformational moments can drop into our laps AND we still have the do the work. As Lynda explains so clearly, that is the choice part. Seeing the opportunities in adversity is a choice.

When you choose to embrace life and accept all that comes as an opportunity, you are more open to co-create;  the universe steps in and you begin to see many synchronicities and serendipities.

Everything thing is an opportunity to grow – at all levels. When you collaborate with like-minded others, you begin to build a world that works for everyone and supports everyone.  The transformational change methodology of Appreciative Inquiry is one way to facilitate meaningful collaboration and co-creation.

Second Chance to Choose our Lives

Please listen in to Lynda as she shares with me the crux of her perspective, grounded in the new sciences. Namely, our new brain,  mind and relationship intelligence allow us to exercise our mindful self to stand in a different place from all the conditioning of our past. The new human recognizes that we can be free of that old, habitual response. We now have a second chance. Growing up, it’s likely we lost our connection with our innate self. We were dominated by what we were told we were and what the world is. Our evolved brain, mind and body allow all that’s within us to surface, so we can observe beliefs and thoughts with compassion and curiosity. We feel the emotions in our body, and with this elevated level of consciousness we are aware that we don’t have to identify with any of this old stuff. We are open to everything-within and without as we shift from avoidance to awareness.

Everything holds an Opportunity for Learning, Healing, Growing

I wanted to conclude these show notes with a quote that Lynda references in the show. It speaks to her message of the new human living into a new world:  To love the questions, to be curious and to live into both.  The point is to live everything.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Maria Rainer Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

How to Connect with Lynda

Lynda's website DrLyndaKlau.com

Lynda on Google+

Lynda on Facebook

Lynda on LinkedIn

Lynda on Twitter

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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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.

Why Strength Matters and How to Grow It

You’ll know when you're coming from your strength because you feel invigorated, productive and enterprising.  When you come from your own strengths, life is easier.

The evidence points to your ability to learn far more quickly when you come from strength; you gain greater satisfaction; you perform more easily; and you experience a desire or a yearning to perform the activity more frequently, as you feel you just have to do it.

Strength Matters – Actually We Have Many Strengths

 I’ll focus on two main bodies of research in the strengths discipline: the first in the personal development space and the second in the organization development and leadership space.  In fact, they overlap and co-mingle.  Both offer an excellent online survey that you can take to identify your own strengths.

First step is to  discover  your innate strengths (also called talents) and then you go out, use them and put them to work.  This is the key to optimizing your well-being,  your flourishing, and a happy life;  and by happy life, the emphasis is on the engagement and meaning aspects of happiness.  This kind of happiness is when you are in alignment with your purpose and are contributing in ways that bring you deep joy and satisfaction.

At work, a good indicator that you're using your strengths is when you are fully engaged in an activity, and, while it may be challenging, you feel at one with it and you lose track of time.  In that case, you're experiencing the flow state, that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience, introduced to the world.  On the contrary, when your energy is depleted and you're either bored (because the task is too easy) or stressed (because it's too hard and not aligned with your natural strengths), you are not in that flow state.  It robs you of productivity and vitality.

But first, let me define “strengths” in the context of human and organization development with a brief overview. 

Character Strengths – Virtues in Action

I’ll start with character strengths developed by the late Chris Peterson of the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania,  deemed the father of positivity psychology, and others.  

With knowledge of your character strengths, it is possible to express and develop character and be poised to better direct talents and abilities into meaningful and engaging behaviors that improve your own life and the lives of others.   

This research identified a framework of 24 character strengths that are classified into 5 broad areas of strengths, namely,

  •  cognitive
  • emotional
  • social and community
  • protective
  • spiritual

Your top five strengths in any one of these broad areas are your innate character strengths and when you work with them and bring them into all aspects of your life, you have much greater capability to live a life that engages you fully and is meaningful.  Seligman talks about the Good Life as

Using your strengths to obtain abundant gratification in the main realms of your life

You can become aware of own strengths by paying attention to the activities that absorb you, that make time fly by andStrength matters you feel they are totally occupying you in a good way, that may also be challenging, yet you just want to be doing it.

For me designing courses and facilitating and writing and speaking bring out the best in me. I get into that flow state and I am totally engaged. It’s not to say it’s not challenging, because challenge and stretching yourself is good.

 

Signature Strengths – StrengthsFinder

Around the same time in 2001, the late Don Clifton, former Chairman of Gallup  who was deemed “the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology” shared his research of near 30 years.

He had been studying excellence in two million people, finally identifying themes that reflect natural talents, naming them signature strengths. He recommends that for success and fulfillment we

“Capitalize on strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around weaknesses, whatever they may be.”

Clifton defines strengths as

“Consistent near perfect performance in an activity . . . the ability is a strength only if you can fathom yourself doing it repeatedly, happily, and successfully.

Clifton’s findings reveal that your top five signature strengths are themes of talent and therefore are your highest potential for development, because that’s where you will find the greatest satisfaction and do what comes most naturally.

“By focusing on your top five themes, you will actually become stronger, more robust, more open to new discoveries and, importantly, more appreciative of people who possess themes very different from your own.”

Take the Surveys

I invite you to go online and take one or both of these strength surveys (listed below) to help you learn about your best attributes and where you can leverage your potential to create the changes that will lead to a more satisfying and meaningful life.

The VIA Survey

VIA stands for Virtues In Action at the website viame.org

The VIA survey is free to take.  I highly recommend it.  You receive a report describing your 24 character strengths with more detail about your top 5.  You can also purchase a range of more detailed reports.   This website is full of excellent explanations and resources.  It's a fabulous resource.

StrengthsFinder Survey

The StrengthsFinder Survey, at the website gallupstrengthscenter.com. There is a cost to take this survey , and there are a number of reports you can invest in to learn more about your signature strengths.

Personal Growth and Development Opportunities

Both surveys will help you identify your strengths, and appreciate the strength matters in a whole new, supportive way. You will come away with valuable insights and personal growth and development opportunities.  Inspired by your new found strengths, some of which you will have intuited and some may come as a surprise, you’ll become more consciously aware of your best self what energizes you so you perform with greater ease.

At the same time, you will now have greater understanding why you find yourself struggling at times and feel depleted.  When you are not in your strengths, it takes more effort, more energy and you find it harder to be in that positive state of engagement.   

How You Can Be More Energized than Depleted

You’ll  start to understand which environments stimulate you or bore you; which behaviors calm you or excite you. Over time, this adds up to a life that is efficient, effective, healthy, productive, and satisfying.

Shifting Power – Exciting Possibilities through Appreciative Inquiry With Tim Slack – PS55

Episode Introduction

Shifting PowerMy guest, Tim Slack is filled with energy, ideas, gratitude and generosity as he talks about his experiences with Appreciative Inquiry.  You’ll hear many references to people Tim admires, and whose work, contributions and essential being have been a positive influence in his work as a  master practitioner of Appreciative Inquiry.  Tim, along with Suzanne Quinney co-founded Appreciating People. They are recognized as UK leaders in the application of the power shifting approach of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in communities, organizations and government agencies.

Tim lives and works in Liverpool in the UK, not far from Penny Lane, of Beatles fame, and, he reports, the tourists still flock there!

Episode Overview –  Shifting Power with Appreciative Inquiry

In this episode, you will hear from Tim, how extensively and innovatively he, his partner Suzanne Quinney and their associates are applying the transformational change method of  Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in the world. In our conversation, we offer that Appreciative Inquiry is undergoing a sea change – a transformation – of its own. Tim and many other AI practitioners continually contribute to the growing number of  practical and life-changing resources, expanding upon the traditional resources of Appreciative Inquiry across the globe.  We talk about the transformative impact of AI at the individual, community and organizational levels. Tim gives examples the resources he and his team have created and the groups he’s been working with: kids in schools, surgeons and nurses in hospitals, women returning from combat in the military, curators in museums, students in universities, the homeless, LGTBQ community, clergy and members of churches and more.

Did You Discover Appreciative Inquiry or Did Appreciative Inquiry Discover you?

I like to ask my guests about their initial experience with AI because growing evidence reveals that when we have our first exposure to AI, it feels so natural to us, that it seems we have “come home” and the entire worldview, principles and practices makes perfect sense to us as a way of being and working.

Tim scored the double jackpot – he discovered his future wife, Suzanne, and AI together. It was Suzanne who introduced him to AI.  They have been co-creating and lighting up the world ever since.  Together, they embarked on a long learning journey with and about Appreciative Inquiry from some of the best teachers and practitioners.  They developed professional relationships which over time developed into strong personal friendships, collaborations and ongoing co-creations.

Influences in Appreciative Inquiry

It delighted me to hear Tim offered that my book, Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-based Workshops was very influential in helping him see the many practical applications of AI.  He also included Jackie Kelm’s books, Appreciative Living and The Joy of Appreciative Living as examples which take AI outside of academia and big organizational development summits into small group work, day-to-day practices and personal transformation. (Links below are offered below.)

Appreciating Church – The Book

Tim shares the story about how the Appreciating Church project originated.  A range of different church communities undertook trainings in AI, but the continuity element was lacking, meaning people experienced training and it stopped there.  So Tim and his colleagues created a longer term process so that the participants had resources to be able to apply it themselves in their own communities and beyond.  The program has been getting stronger and stronger over two years and in January 2017, the book, Appreciating Church will be available. This is an exciting addition to AI's body of work.

The opening lines of the book, dating back to the 14th century, quote St. Julian de Norwich (known to be the first woman to write a  book in the English language):

And all shall be well, all shall be well… for there is a Force of love moving through the universe, that holds us fast and will never let us go.”  St. Julian de Norwich (c.a. 1342-1416)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-02-50-pm

Click on the image to view a PDF outline of “Appreciating Church” – the book

Listen in to learn more about this very exciting work, what’s in the book and how it could be recontextualized to other communities.  Hint, it’s about a God of Abundance, not pain and fear or scarcity, and how we can use our strengths collectively.

With 210 people already trained across the participating churches, Tim talks about the shifts that have already occurred and the impact this work is having, as it expands.  He also pays tribute to Jane Magruder Watkins and Ralph Kelly in embarking on this work.

 

Appreciative Inquiry Resources AKA Essentials

I find it delightful to plug into Tim’s perspective.  The “resources” he continues to create for the AI community – trainers, practitioners and their clients are referred to as “essentials.” Check out the Essentials page on the Appreciating People website.   They are truly beautiful and valuable – content-wise and aesthetically.

AI – A Sea Change?

We talked about the shift that we are witnessing in the applications of AI.  The sea change lies in the acknowledgement that AI is not just about big systems and organization development.  There is a desire to find out more about “the self” and desire to apply Appreciative Inquiry for personal growth and change.  Living in times of chaos and turbulence, we are looking for resources to help us be more grounded, to give us a framework that offers us hope and possibility, enabling us to tap into our inner strengths.  AI does this.  A recent survey I conducted confirms this trend.

Journaling

The value of journaling to support the “appreciative muscle” came out of the work Suzanne Quinney had been doing with the hostel residents (Suzanne describes the power of this work in an earlier conversation I had with her.)  The questions, the inspirations, the prompts in the journals allow the person to document their thoughts, reflections, insights along their journey.  Tim has created a number of journals that are specific to different contexts.  For example, “How To Be More Awesome” for students; “Food for Thought” for people who want to strengthen their appreciative muscle. The process of journaling can help in building resilience.  Questions are drawn from Appreciative inquiry and activities from the field of Positivity Psychology, such as daily gratitude, mindfulness and wellness activities. Tim is a big advocate of multiple learning modalities, including art and humor.

Shifting Power – Ensuring all Stakeholders ARE IN

During  our conversation, one of the tools Tim mentions is the ‘ARE IN’ check-in process, created originally by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff who created “Future Search” which was based on the original Search Conferencing Participatory Planning and Design methodology. (Open the Positivity Lens Reveal below to learn more)

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One of the challenges in bringing the whole system together to explore an organisation’s development plans is to ensure you have got the ‘right’ people there.

ARE IN could be a useful mechanism to ensure buy-in and ownership – which is a precursor to shifting power – give voice to all.

This acronym is a useful reminder when planning a large scale, whole systems change experiences.

The ARE IN tool, was developed by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, as part of the ‘Future Search’ methodology.

They recommend that a whole system event or process should include participants who ‘ARE IN’, i.e. those with:

A uthority to act (e.g. decision making responsibility in an organisation or community);

R esources such as contacts, time or, money;

E xpertise in the issues to be considered;

I nformation about the topic that no others have;

N eed to be involved because they will be affected by the outcome and can speak to the consequences;

This check list implies you have people in the room who can make decisions and who can ensure change is sustained beyond the planning stages. 

What is Excellence?

Tim leaves us with hints of what Appreciating People are beginning to work on – looking at excellence in surgical procedures in hospitals. He concludes by pondering if the next question we could be asking, after the seminal AI question “What’s already working well” is

“What is excellence?”

A banquet of food for thought!

Links and Mentions

Tim’s Wesbite: Appreciating People

Tim’s email: Tim Slack  tim@appreciatingpeople.co.uk

Tim’s Blog Posts: News from Appreciating People

Tim’s Twitter: @AppreciatingPeople

Tim’s LinkedIn:  Tim Slack

Interview with Suzanne Quinney: Social Innovations by Appreciating People, with Suzanne Quinney

Interview with Jackie Kelm: Three Steps to Appreciative Living, with Joy Engineer Jackie Kelm

St. Julian de Norwich – Amazon Page

 

Books Mentioned in the Episode


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Why Strengths Based Coaching Helps Overcome Weaknesses

I bet a number of you have been coached.  If so, it is likely you are into your own development.  It's also likely you are aware of coaching to strengths is very beneficial.

Coaching is about improvement, going to the next level, achieving aspirations, identifying ways to  live to your fullest capacity and potential.  Yet, a dominant, and perhaps traditional model of coaching, has been to start from a place of lack, or deficient that focuses on eliminating weaknesses.  There is this strongly held view that we need to fix the problem before we can move into the areas of development.

The Energizing Force of Strengths Based Coaching

Strengths based coaching comes from the worldview that in every system (human and otherwise) there are also many things that already work right.  Starting from what one does well already – one's strengths – is a far more energizing way to improve quickly.  You actually go from strength to strength which helps to mitigate weaknesses.  It's not to say you don't address or deal with weaknesses.  I am saying that starting from what you do well, what gives you best outcomes personally, or amplifies your organizational capabilities offers greater leverage and takes less time than investing heavily in and struggling with weaknesses.  You also have greater willingness to deal with the weaknesses once you have elevated your best assets.

Strengthen Existing Talents

Strengths based coaching starts with what’s working well already and seeks to discover your natural strengths, talents, and preferences.  You recognize there are choice points and you tend to focus on what consumes you.  Said another way: “Where the attention goes, the energy flows.”

If you’re a leader, a parent, an educator, isn’t it your responsibility to encourage the development of others in life-nurturing ways to help them find the fullest and most satisfying ways possible and strengthen their existing talents?

I'd like to illustrate with a business story that illustrates how strengths based coaching is an extremely effective way of developing people.

Develop your Strengths to Mitigate your Weaknesses

A few years ago, I was brought in to a large professional services firm to coach seven young women who were deemed “high potential”. They were in their early 30s. This firm wanted to groom more young women to be promoted to director level and possibility partner. The business reason for this investment in coaching was to stop the high attrition rate of these young, talented women leaving the firm because they saw no real career path there. Most of the senior jobs continued to be given to men.

Each of the seven young women came to her first coaching session with her “report card” (360 performance review) from her manager, ready to point out what her weaknesses were and what her manager recommended she work on.

Respectfully, I listened and looked at the document. After what I thought was an appropriate amount of time, I put the document down, looked at her, and asked one very simple, straightforward question:

“Tell me what you’re best at?”

The response I got every time was: silence.

Experience Flow

It didn't take too long for the young woman’s demeanor to change with a physiological shift, a softening in the face, a change in eye focus and gaze, and then a smile, followed by a gentle, embarrassed laugh.  Together, we began to explore what gave her greatest joy and satisfaction.  She was able to identify when she experienced a sense of flow – when time was lost – when she experienced a sense of intrinsic reward even though the situation was challenging.  What she found most rewarding was to discover that when she experienced this sense of time just passing so fluidly, she experienced her work to be far more energizing and engaging.

Increase Productivity and Joy

In the six months' coaching that followed, each young woman went through a transformation. They all completed the VIA Character Strengths survey and put their strengths work.

They reported relationships that had been challenging become easier. They felt less stressed because they invested their efforts in their strengths and found ways to manage weaknesses, meaning they become more productive and experienced more joy in their work.

They were so happy that with this new knowledge they found they were also able begin to notice the strengths of their colleagues, bosses and staff who reported to them, so they could optimize their productivity as well by assigning tasks and responsibilities that best fit their strength profiles.

Believe me, when you really know your own strengths and integrate the words and behaviors, you become far more effective in all your relationships, your own productivity and life takes on a whole new meaning.

Invest in Developing Strengths – Why Bother?

Before I even started school, I remember annoying my grandmother, mother and father because they thought I asked too many questions.

“Curiosity killed the cat” was one of the many proverbs my grandmother delighted in repeating to me, every time I poked my head into something new, or asked “Why?” It silenced me, as I was upset by the idea of “killing cats.”

My mother, too, after endless “Why?” questions, in frustration would sigh, “Because I said so” or “’Y’ is a crooked letter that can’t be made straight.” I had to pause to think hard about trying to straighten the letter “Y” and wouldn’t dare ask, “Why does it need to be straightened?”

Even my father would tell me, “Mind your p’s and q’s.” I couldn’t fathom that one.

Curiosity and Love of Learning Energize Me

In spite of these early reprimands, it seems my curiosity, love of learning, and desire to seek out new ideas have been my constant guides. These days, whenever I am in a new territory, I am called to go further to explore what’s around the corner, over the hill, or beyond the horizon.

I am truly satisfied when I discover for myself what I can learn and what new ideas come up that stimulate possibility-thinking and what-if scenarios.

After all these years, I know now that curiosity, love of learning, collecting ideas, and seeing the big picture are my best attributes, or my signature strengths. I know I am most satisfied when I am playing or working to these strengths.

Our Weaknesses Attract More Attention and Investment

It’s a relatively new, and thankfully a growing trend, to focus on and develop strengths. Yet, the old paradigm of ‘overcome weaknesses first’ is played out every day in most of our homes, our schools, our institutions, and our places of work and worship.

The behaviors, the processes, the decisions that are weak or problematic in some way, are the first to grab attention. You focus on the things that “need fixing.”  What happens as a result is those behaviors, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and processes that are working well and bring you successes don’t attract the same attention or the investment of resources.

Do you think it’s a fair generalization to say that you invest energy, money, time, intellect, and emotion into things that don’t work for  you more than you  put energies into those things that will give you an easier and a much-better return for your efforts and investments?

The Task of Leadership

Key question: Are you better off investing in and developing strengths? – defined as innate talents that can be more easily and speedily developed – than dealing with weaknesses that can be worked around and will take more effort, time and resources and always be a struggle?

The late management and leadership guru, Peter Drucker’s quote is relevant more than ever:

 “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant.”

Strength-based approaches to human and organization development and positive psychology, defined as the study of strengths, excellence, resilience, and optimal functioning in general, focus on people’s talents and gifts.

Your talents and gifts are your strengths. When people are performing in roles in which they play to their strengths, studies show that performance and satisfaction increase, productivity improves, and they have greater chance at achieving their full potential.  That’s from the book Now, Discover your Strengths, by Buckingham & Clifton (2001).

This is a radical departure from the long-held view that to help someone perform at his or her best, you work on improving the person’s weaknesses. This view is evidenced by the fact that in 2001 only 20 percent of employees in companies across the globe feel their strengths are in play on a daily basis or  “have the opportunity to do their best work”.  Good news is, in 2014, that statstic has jumped to an average of 30%.

Are you helping grow that statistic?  I sure hope so.  I know as an agent for positive change, I am.

How Positive Language will Improve Your Life

As the Saying Goes

“Stick and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

 

That's what my mother would say, whenever, as a very young girl, I was hurt by my friends when they suddenly turned into short-term enemies and called me nasty, horrible names.

At a sophisticated level, that favorite expression of my mother's is very true.  Listening to negative language does not improve your life.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” 

a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, is in the same vein.

Develop your Perceptual Repertoire

Yet, words do hurt us, and shape us, and inform our self-image and shape our beliefs.  It's not until we're grown up that we can begin to develop our perceptual repertoire to begin to improve our life.  We learn that we can shift our perceptions of ourselves and our world and even eliminate hurt and negativity, and at the same time rewire our brain for good, and potentially improve our life.

Let me share a very personal story. It’s about my oldest and dearest friend, whom I’ll call Jenny, for confidentiality purposes. Jenny’s a nurse, a wife, an animal lover.  I love her deeply and even though we’ve had some challenges over the years, particularly the earlier years, now, as maturing adults, we are here for each other.  However, for around 15 years, I equated my best friend with gloom and doom!

Self-sabotage

The amount of distrust, insecurity, negativity and self-dislike was partly due to her fear of disappointing people and anxiety that she’d be criticized. Feelings of not being good enough all added up to self-sabotage. For a long time, changing her self-belief and behaviors was not even a consideration. It’s just who she was and she was okay with the self-inflicted pain and misery. She was not open to recognize there were other options.

That fear and anxiety were real for her, yet they were of own creation, and what she co-created in relationship with others. The neurons in her brain were not open to connect with others who were trying to extend the love and understanding they were wanting to communicate. She was not open to listening to others or feeling heard.

We See the World just as We Describe it

I tell her story, not because I like it, and she’s long since moved on with help and support, but that’s the story she lived at the time and she believed her, she had me believe her, and the world performed just as she described and expected it would. And that’s the truth!

It’s just how we talk about stuff, what we believe and the words we use to talk about ourselves, our families and friends and colleagues, bosses, companies, industry, politicians and countries that reveal how we see the world.  It’s how we show up in the world and how the world shows up to and for us.

You know, it’s not:  we describe the world we see.  It’s we SEE the world we describe.

I’m not saying that tragedies don’t befall us, financial crises don’t happen, natural disasters don’t happen, illnesses and death don’t occur – we don’t chose them, and they change us. What I am saying is: It’s how we chose to respond that counts and you know that. Be careful of what you focus on, because what we focus on grows. You know they say, be careful what you wish for.

Improve Your Life

So a lesson here, when you want to create positive changes to improve your life, a great start point is to pay attention to how you talk to yourself, and ask yourself where those words come from? Who are the narrators in your head that highjack your better intentions.

Think back to my friend, Jenny. Is life a battle to be fought or a mystery to be embraced? How deeply programmed are you to focus on the problem side of life Vs the developmental side of life? Those of you with children – do you see them as problem children or developing children? How do their teachers see them? In your workplaces, how do you see your co-workers and leaders? It is all embedded in the beliefs you have that are reinforced through your language.

It’s helpful to reflect on how your mind is shaped by the descriptions you use about yourself and others.  I invite you to reflect on the words that describe you.  Where did those words came from?  Was it from your caregivers, your friends, your teachers?  And also, what positive language are you intentionally using to improve your life?