7 Chapters
Medium 9781523094035

5 Scaling Up Great Conversations

Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.

– Lao Tzu

When you think about people having productive and worthwhile conversations, how many individuals do you assume are in the conversation? You probably know intuitively what the research tells us: If there are more than eight to twelve people, you can’t really have a meaningful conversation. We know that conversations worth having energize and motivate people. We also know they are productive and meaningful. Imagine the potential for organizations and communities if we could have those kinds of conversations with the whole system!

The people and their conversations are the organization.

This potential has, in fact, already been achieved in cities such as Cleveland and Denver and in countries as different as Nepal and Chile. Contrary to what research would have us believe, these powerful whole-systems conversations have taken place with 50, 100, even 4,500 people at the same time. It has also happened in thousands of organizations around the world, including Google, Accenture, Verizon, ANZ Bank of Australia, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Nutrimental, Bibb County Schools (Georgia), Clarke Group, the U.S.

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3 Two Simple Appreciative Practices

Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Creating a positive future begins in human conversation. The simplest and most powerful investment any member of a community or an organization can make is to begin with other people as though the answers mattered.

– William Greider

We saw in chapter 1 how Alisha at the medical center changed the direction and tone of her conversations simply by varying her frame of reference and asking a question that altered everything. Her frame shifted from employees as problems to employee ideas and actions as possibilities. From this new frame of reference, a different set of questions emerged, inspiring solutions and more effective interactions than previous critical conversations. These questions helped her staff focus on what was working and what could be working better. The answers enabled them to replicate success and create new possibilities.

Likewise, Kamal and Mary at the bank intentionally framed their first meeting with Elizabeth to set the stage for appreciative tone and positive direction. Inviting her to share her best experiences about what gives life to the bank and the community resulted in a conversation worth having.

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1 Shifting Conversations

Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One great conversation can shift the direction of change forever.

– Linda Lambert

Alisha Patel, a senior administrator at a thriving medical center in New England, was surprised at the less-than-stellar patient satisfaction report that was sitting on her desk. Her surprise turned to understanding when she saw which hospital unit this was from. The director of that unit had recently quit because she felt frustrated with the new leadership model and refused to change. Alisha was filling in until a new director was hired.

She sent a copy of the patient satisfaction report to the nurse managers in the unit. She also emailed them an assignment for their next management meeting, which was a week away: Pay attention. Look for what staff members are doing that contributes to patient satisfaction. Come prepared to share a story of a best practice you’ve seen during the week.

The nurse managers were confused when they got the email; one even wrote back, asking if Alisha had made a mistake. “No,” she replied, “please look for what’s working well and bring your best story next week.” This was a dramatic shift from what these nurse managers were used to, and it created quite a buzz. The former director usually read them the riot act, tried to find who was at fault, and demanded they do better, or else. They were glad to see her go!

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7 Any Time, Any Place, Any Situation

Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.

– Tao Te Ching

Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach used to discover the best in people, organizations, and the communities around them. AI research has shown that systems (of self, teams, organizations, and communities) move in the direction of the questions people ask. AI initiates positive emotions and opens the doorway to unimagined possibilities for those who experience this way of being in and making sense of the world. This way of being is perhaps best described by Jane Magruder Watkins, a senior AI practitioner, OD consultant, and author, who says AI is “a habit of mind, heart, and imagination that searches for the success, the life-giving force rather than disaster and despair.”1 Starting appreciative and inquiry-based conversations is basically a matter of learning two simple practices: applying positive framing and using generative questions. When following the AI principles becomes second nature, you yourself will naturally initiate productive and meaningful interactions most of the time.

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2 What Kind of Conversations Are You Having?

Stavros, Jacqueline M.; Torres, Cheri; Cooperrider, David L. Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The moment of questioning is also the moment of choice, which holds the greatest leverage for effective action and positive change.

– Marilee Goldberg

Conversation is a constant in our lives, whether it consists of our internal dialogue or our interactions with people. We all know these conversations affect us, but we may not realize how much influence they have on our well-being and our capacity to thrive. Not sure about that? Have you ever been in a great mood and having a really good day when a short interaction with someone turned the whole thing sour? Or perhaps you were having a lousy day and a simple conversation suddenly brightened your outlook. In their research, Jeff and Laurie Ford, authors of The Four Conversations, actually documented that “the type of conversation you have with the people around you has a profound impact on your experiences, relationships, and accomplishments.”1

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