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Cheri Torres

Conversation Strengthens Relationships . . . or not!

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If you are in the rapture of a new love, reflect for a moment on the kinds of conversations you have with one another. If you’ve weathered new love and are in a long-term relationship, think back to the beginning and reflect on the conversations that brought you together. If you’re like most, those conversations will have a positive tone and direction. They most likely included lots of discovery about one another: Asking about one another’s thoughts, ideas, history, likes and dislikes. They may well have included visioning conversations: What do you want to do on Friday? Shall we plan a hike and a picnic for Saturday? What might your future hold?

Early in relationships we are interested, curious, and excited to learn about the other person. We listen and naturally ask more questions to deepen our understanding. We may see both the strengths and weaknesses of the person, but we focus on the strengths and forgive them their weaknesses. These kinds of conversations are magic. They bring out the best in each of us, help us feel connected, safe, and accepted. In those moments, we feel more vibrant, creative, whole, and alive.

If the relationship sustains over time, very often things change. And we will notice that change in the tone and direction of our conversations. Critical or destructive conversations will destroy a relationship if they dominate. John Gottman, a psychological researcher and clinician, found that healthy couples have a five- to-one ratio of positive conversations to negative. He was able to predict with 94% accuracy the divorce rate of 700 couples based on only 15 minutes of observed conversation. What’s the ratio between you and your loved ones?

 

Our Conversations either strengthen or weaken the bonds of our relationships. They are so vital, they can even be predictive of a life-long partnership or a failed marriage.

 

To rebuild or maintain your loving relationship, Gottman recommends: increasing respect for one another, showing affection and closeness, developing waysto break through and resolve conflict, generating greater understanding for one another, and keeping conflict discussions calm. Conversation is essential for most of these. Here are three key practices that will help you have conversations that strengthen relationships:

1. Pause.

Before you react, take a breath and get curious: What’s behind what just happened? What’s going on for the other? What’s going on for you? What do you actually want to happen in this moment? What do you need? What might the other need/want?

2.  Ask Generative Questions.

Let go of your assumptions and your need to be “right.” Instead, with genuine curiosity, care, and openness, ask questions that will generate understanding, connection, and possibilities. People grow and change over time. What don’t you know about your partner?

3.  Create a Positive Frame.

Set a tone and direction for a conversation that focuses on a desired outcome. Talk about what you both want and how that might be possible, instead of what you don’t want and why your wants are mutually exclusive.

 

If you value your relationships, especially one with a significant other, then pay attention to the tone and direction of your conversations.

 

All relationships have ups and downs. Living with others naturally triggers us at times, especially when we are not feeling strong and capable. We may not have control over our immediate reactions, but we can be intentional about our conversations. We can aim for that five-to-one Gottman ratio by having conversations that reinforce mutual respect, care, and understanding. Turn off the TV, plan a romantic dinner and have a conversation worth having. Here are a few topics to get you started:

  • What do we most admire and respect about one another?
  • What is it that makes each of us come alive?
  • How can we support each other in doing more of what brings us joy and energy each day?
  • Share stories of when you both felt most connected and loving. Discover what made those times possible: What were you doing? Where were you? What conditions were necessary? Then, make plans to create those conditions on a regular basis (e.g., date night).

This Valentine’s Day (and every day) have conversations that help you fall in love all over again.

 

This article first appeared in Oh!Woman, February 2019 edition.
Cheri Torres is a catalyst for positive change and lead consultant with Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity, meaningful engagement, and a thriving culture. Email: cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Make 2019 a Year of Well-Being

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New Year’s commitments are almost always different renditions of the desire for better health, wellbeing, and happiness. Here are some surefire, research-based strategies for actually achieving better health, improved wellbeing, and increased happiness:

  1. Mind your conversations. If you do only one thing, choose to be intentional about your conversations. Conversations—with yourself and with others—significantly impact your health, wellbeing, relationships, and success in life. If you want 2019 to be a great year, have conversations worth having! Research shows you can add up to ten years to your life if 75-80% of your conversations have an affirmative tone and positive direction. Why? Because negative or depreciative interactions trigger the release of “stress hormones” (cortisol, norepinephrine, testosterone, adrenalin), which depress our immune system, our sense of wellbeing, and our ability to connect and learn. On the other hand, appreciative and inquiry-based interactions trigger the release of “happiness hormones” (oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins), which fortify our immune system, stimulate learning, creativity and connection. Get a free toolkit on fostering conversations worth having.
  2. Improve Conversations and Relationships by Double Clicking. Judith Glaser suggests we “double click” on what we think or what others say. It’s like double clicking on a computer to see what’s behind the immediate and visible page. Double clicking requires you to pause briefly before responding to get curious. If you’re about to pass judgment (on yourself or someone else), stop and double click. What’s behind the thought or the comment. Become a master at asking questions that support connection, learning, understanding, possibilities and shared pathways forward.
  3. Practice Gratitude. Research shows that feeling gratitude decreases stress and increases overall happiness, contentment, life satisfaction, and optimism. Start the year off with a gratitude journal and make at least five entries daily. Elaborate about each person or thing for which you are grateful in order to deepen your experience of gratitude. Focusing on people for whom you are grateful has more of an impact on your wellbeing and health than on things. Savor the surprises. Share your gratitude with others. For more about the benefits of gratitude, check out Greater Good.
  4. Engage regularly with a close friend. People who have one or two close friends with whom they can share their heart are happier. Belonging and a sense of connection improve our overall health, well-being, and happiness.
  5. Exercise and eat healthy. Keep moving. Exercise is correlated with improved mental wellbeing and lower incidence of depression. Stand up for 30-60 seconds out of every 20-30 minutes. Just doing this will increase circulations, bringing oxygen and needed nutrients to your brain and vital organs. A little longer break every hour or two will help hit the reset button!
  6. Do what is meaningful. A meaningful life brings a deeper kind of happiness.
  7. Cultivate kindness and generosity. Kindness and generosity create an inner sense of wellbeing and happiness and they are linked with greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, better mental and physical health, and longevity. Connect with others, be present. Smile and mean it. Listen openly. Let the other car cut in front of you. Volunteer. Be of service.
  8. Do What Brings You Joy. Find what makes you come alive and make sure to use it daily in your work and personal life. Make time to do what brings you joy, even if it’s just for 15-30 minutes a day. Know your strengths and use them daily; using our strengths often elicits joy. You can identify your character strengths using this free survey from VIA.

Engage in these eight well-being practices and your year will be healthier, more joyful, and successful. Keep in mind, a single conversation can undo the benefits of practices 2-8. So if you do nothing else, be mindful of your conversations. Don’t avoid problems or conflict, simply engage in ways that move your forward towards solutions and higher ground. From those of us at Conversations Worth Having, may your coming year be your best year yet!

Cheri Torres is a catalyst for positive change, speaker and author. She works with leaders in organizations and communities enhancing their ability to fuel productive and meaningful engagement. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Make Holiday Conversations Worth Having

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When you contemplate the holiday season, are you filled with visions of family togetherness? Or are you bracing for stress and tension? It’s often difficult to keep our hopes and anticipations at bay when it comes to the holidays. But research tells us that our anticipations are fateful. Our expectations show up in the tone and direction our conversations take, and our conversations create our reality.

Here are some ideas to help you have conversations worth having this holiday season:

  • Begin with yourself. Reflect on the best holiday season or family gathering you’ve ever experienced. Look back on the highpoint memories: times when you felt that spirit of gratitude and connection with others. What factors contributed to these highpoint experiences? What did you value about yourself and others? How might bringing those qualities forward into this season positively influence your holidays?
  • Create shared images of the best holiday season. Ask others to imagine an awesome holiday season and then describe it in the present tense. How does it feel? What’s happening? How is everyone engaging and treating one another? What are you doing together and how is each person contributing? After each person shares, create a shared vision and have a conversation about how you will bring these positive images to life.
  • Celebrate the moments of shared joy. Celebrate and acknowledge one another’s contributions. Show your gratitude and be specific in telling one another what you appreciate.
  • Stay open to the outcome. Hold your expectations lightly. Allow them to flex and evolve. Check in with people if tension or stress begins to unravel the fabric of your vision. If things change, reimagine together. If kids would prefer to hang with their peeps instead of spending the whole time with family, don’t take it personally. Be open to blending and balancing family and friend time.
  • Pause, breathe, and get curious. If tension results in anger and negative interactions, pause. Instead of reacting, take a moment. Negative conversations arise when people are overstressed, fearful, or their sense of belonging is threatened. Our body and brain shift to protect us. Under stress, the body and brain release excessive stress hormones (cortisol, norepinephrine, testosterone), which shut down our ability to connect and think creatively or critically. If you react, you deepen the stress response for both of you. Instead, breathe (from the belly) and get curious about what’s behind their stress. Ask questions that convey concern and interest in their perspective or their needs. For example, “What’s going on for you?” “What do you need or want right now?” Ask enough questions to come to a shared understanding and communicate your care. Ten seconds
    of eye contact and a genuine hug will trigger the “feel good” hormones that help us reconnect and engage. This opens the door for a conversation that moves everyone towards
    a desired outcome.
  • Adopt an attitude of curiosity. If taboo topics, like politics or religion, arise make an intentional decision about the conversation you have. Instead of debating, which easily degenerates into a polarizing and destructive conversation, adopt an attitude of curiosity. Take this as an opportunity
    to learn more about Uncle Joe or about how your children’s thinking has evolved. Ask questions that make the invisible visible (e.g., assumptions and beliefs). Avoid asking ‘why’ questions. Instead, ask “How did you come to believe that?” “Where do you go for information and facts, and how do you check for accuracy?” “What do you want to have happen and what might be the impact of that on the country?” Search for common ground. You’re not likely to change anyone’s mind, but you will know a lot more about their thinking and feeling and their sources of information. And they will feel heard.
  • Make amends. A forgiveness conversation can restore or deepen a relationship. If there is someone in your life that has hurt you or you have hurt, consider initiating a healing conversation. Keep the brain and its chemistry in mind. Hurt and betrayal are threats and send us into fight or flight. Frame the conversation for the outcome you hope for, rather than about what happened. For example, “You are important to me and I want to find a way for us to move forward.” Stay in the question mode, especially if you are seeking forgiveness. Have a conversation that explores what needs to happen for you both to move forward.

The outcome of your holiday season will reflect the conversations you have with family and friends. Make them conversations worth having!

This article first appeared in WNC Woman. It can found at wncwoman.com, December 2018, p. 9.

Cheri Torres is a catalyst for positive change, speaker and author. She works with leaders in organizations and communities enhancing their ability to fuel productive and meaningful engagement. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Transforming Culture One Conversation at a Time

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If you look up the meaning of culture, you’ll find a definition resembling this:

a: the customary beliefs, social norms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group, e.g., Southern culture.

b: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization, e.g., a corporate culture focused on the bottom line.

Relationship, connection, and communication are foundational to these definitions. More specifically, culture arises in the context of our conversations and the way we make meaning together. Conversation is the invisible glue that either reinforces the current culture or challenges it to evolve (or devolve).

Conversations Need to Reflect and Reinforce the Desired New Culture

If you want to transform culture, start having conversations that align with the kind of culture you want. Not conversations about the kind of culture you want, rather conversations that reflect the desired culture. In other words, begin working and talking together as if the new culture was already present and have conversations about transforming important systems and structures to reinforce the desired culture. For example, say you want a culture of collaboration. One way to learn about conversations that reflect collaboration is to find out what kind of conversations people have when they are collaborating. You might invite people to share stories of successful collaboration and then ask, “What kind of conversations did you have? What were the factors that contributed to collaboration?” 

You might continue by inviting people to “Imagine we have a culture of collaboration. What does it look like, sound like, feel like? What kinds of conversations are we having and who’s involved in them?” Then begin talking and working in that way.

Secondly, have  conversations that lead to systems change, policy reformation, and new structures that will align with and reinforce collaboration. This is likely to include hiring, on boarding, evaluations, reward systems, planning processes, and more. It’s that simple, but not easy.

Culture Change is All About “We”

A cultural conversation worth having is one that invites everyone to transform the culture from the inside out by talking and working in ways that reflect the desired culture. It is a whole system, team effort. It’s important to be patient with such change. We maintain culture through habits of being, doing, and talking. Culture change means new habits. Even the best of us working hard to be mindful slip up and return to old habits. Celebrating and reinforcing success, while finding compassionate ways to remind one another when old habits show up will support a sense of “we”.  Avoid being critical or expressing exasperation, which drives people to protect “me.”

Let Your Words Support a “We” Attitude

Creating intentional culture transformation requires a “we” attitude. Our capacity for “we” comes alive in conversations worth having, but quickly disintegrates to “me” in the face of critical or destructive interactions. The reason: biology. Neuroscience shows that any threat to belonging or safety triggers the release of biochemicals designed to stimulate “protect” systems. The more threatened we feel, the more cortisol, norepinephrine, and testosterone. These hormones actually inhibit our ability to connect, think critically, and be creative. A single sentence or question can start a downward spiral into “me-thinking”: Why do you keep doing it the old way? Nope, that’s not the way we do it now, remember. Body language can be the worst: rolling eyes, deep sighs of dismay or disgust, a shaking of the head.

The key is to have interactions that support the release of hormones designed to foster connection, memory, learning, and creativity. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins completely shift the brain’s chemistry, opening us to “we-thinking.” When we feel safe and included, we engage to our fullest capacity. Memory and learning improve. New habits are easier to practice. This is important. If we want to transform culture, it begins with such conversations.

Culture = Conversations

Everything we do is mediated through conversation. We create shared meaning through dialogue. We develop visions of the future by imagining together. We design pathways and systems to help us achieve that future. Conversation is the way we build and reinforce a culture – the current one or a new one.

We live in times when new ways of working together are being called for. We need conversations that inspire us to build cultures of purpose, collaboration, and inclusivity. Conversations that help us create pathways, structures and social systems that allow all people to flourish. It’s possible. It simply takes different conversations.

Become a conversational catalyst in your organization!

Cheri Torres is a Lead Catalyst for positive change, speaker, author, and consultant with Collaborative by Design . She works with leaders in organizations and communities enhancing their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today 

Building Community One Conversation at a Time

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If you look up the meaning of community. You’ll find a lifeless (IMHO) definition: people living in a certain place (as a village or city) : the area itself.

I don’t think this is what we have in mind when we talk about building community. More likely we’re thinking of community the way Fabian Pfortmüller, Swiss community builder, defines it: a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together. His definition implies connection and relationship, vitality and intention.

Such communities are built in conversation.

At the core of communicating care and a sense of belonging we find conversations worth having. A conversation worth having is one that communicates, verbally and non-verbally, I care about you and you belong. It shows up when we acknowledge someone’s strengths and gifts; when we ask them questions that help us understand who they are. Interactions that communicate respect and worthiness tell people they are important; they have something valuable to contribute. When we have these kinds of conversations, the world of connection and creative possibility open up.

Real community requires a “we” attitude. Our capacity for “we” comes alive in conversations worth having, but quickly disintegrates to “me” in the face of critical or destructive interactions. The reason: biology. Neuroscience shows that any threat to belonging or safety triggers the release of biochemicals designed to stimulate “protect” systems. The more threatened we feel, the more cortisol, norepinephrine, and testosterone. These hormones actually inhibit our ability to connect, think critically, and be creative. A single sentence or question can start a downward spiral into “me-thinking”: Oh, that’s not important. We’ll call on you when we’re ready for your input. No, not you.

The key is to have interactions that support the release of hormones designed to foster connection, creativity and higher order thinking. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins completely shift the brain’s chemistry, opening us to “we-thinking.” When we feel safe and included, we engage to our fullest capacity. This is important. If we want to build community, it begins with such conversations.

It doesn’t stop there. Everything we do is mediated through conversation. We create shared meaning through dialogue. We develop visions of the future by imagining together. We design pathways and systems to help us achieve that future. Conversation is the way we build and reinforce community.

We live in times when new ways of being in community are being called for. We need conversations that inspire us to build community broadly and inclusively, and to create pathways, structures and social systems that allow all people to flourish. It’s possible. It simply takes different conversations.

WNC Woman initiated a new conversation in Asheville, NC on October 30, 2018:

Imagine it’s 2020 and all women in our community are beginning to experience a level of equity and mutuality like we’ve never known before. As you look around
and talk with others, you honestly believe that the initiative(s) we started in 2018 are creating systems changes reflecting real and sustainable equity. These changes are opening the doors so that it’s possible for all women to flourish in their authenticity. In addition, relationships among women are different. There is a palpable shift in the way women of diverse races and ethnicities interact and engage with one another. As you look back to 2018, you recall that you and others you respect and love were an important part of community conversations that helped foster these positive changes.

  • What does this future community look like? What are you seeing, hearing, feeling, experiencing that tells you things are significantly different, and that real and sustainable change is happening? What is possible for you now that was not in 2018?
  • What is different about the way women of diverse races and ethnicities interact and engage with one another? How, specifically, is this affecting you and your life?
  • What initiatives did we start in 2018 that fueled these changes? What role did you play?
  • If you had three wishes to implement positive change in social systems that are pivotal to equity and mutuality for women, what would they be?

What might be possible if we begin to have dialogues about building communities that work for everyone? Conversations about what we want, instead of interactions focused on resisting or criticizing what is. What future would you like to bring about? Become a conversational catalyst. We invite you to join us in fostering conversations worth having.

This article first appeared in NOVEMBER 2018 // wncwoman.com

Cheri Torres is a Lead Catalyst for positive change, speaker, author, and consultant with Collaborative by Design . She works with leaders in organizations and communities enhancing their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement.

 

Building Community One Conversation at a Time

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If you look up the meaning of community. You’ll find a lifeless (IMHO) definition: (1) people living in a certain place (as a village or city) : the area itself.

I don’t think this is what we have in mind when we talk about building community. More likely we’re thinking of community the way Fabian Pfortmüller, Swiss community builder, defines it: a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together. His definition implies connection and relationship, vitality and intention. Such communities are built in conversation.

At the core of communicating care and a sense of belonging we find conversations worth
having
. A conversation worth having is one that communicates, verbally and non-verbally, I care about you and you belong. It shows up when we acknowledge someone’s strengths and gifts; when we  ask them questions that help us understand who they are. Interactions that communicate respect and worthiness tell people they are important; they have something valuable to contribute. When we have these kinds of conversations, the world of connection and creative possibility open up.

Real community requires a “we” attitude. Our capacity for “we” comes alive in conversations worth having, but quickly disintegrates to “me” in the face of critical or destructive interactions. The reason: biology. Neuroscience shows that any threat to belonging or safety triggers the release of biochemicals designed to stimulate “protect”
systems. The more threatened we feel, the more cortisol, norepinephrine, and testosterone. These hormones actually inhibit our ability to connect, think critically, and be creative. A single sentence or question can start a downward spiral into “me-thinking:” Oh, that’s not important. We’ll call on you when we’re ready for your input. No, not you.

The key is to have interactions that support the release of hormones designed to foster connection, creativity and higher order thinking. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins completely shift the brain’s chemistry, opening us to “we-thinking.” When we feel safe and included, we engage to our fullest capacity. This is important. If we want to build community, it begins with such conversations.

It doesn’t stop there. Everything we do is mediated through conversation. We create shared meaning through dialogue. We develop visions of the future by imagining together. We design pathways and systems to help us achieve that future. Conversation is the way we build and reinforce community. We live in times when new ways of being in community are being called for. We need conversations that inspire us to build community broadly and inclusively, and to create pathways, structures and social systems that allow all people to flourish. It’s possible. It simply takes different conversations.

WNC Woman owner, Sandra Grace, and Cheri Torres are initiating a new conversation on October 30, 2018 in Asheville, NC:

Imagine it’s 2020 and all women in our community are beginning to experience a level of  equity and mutuality like we’ve never known before. As you look around and talk with others, you honestly believe that the initiative(s) we started in 2018 are creating systems changes reflecting real and sustainable equity. These changes are opening the doors so that it’s possible for all women to flourish in their authenticity. In addition, relationships among women are different. There is a palpable shift in the way women of diverse races and ethnicities interact and engage with one another. As you look back to 2018, you recall that you and others you respect and love were an important part of community conversations that helped foster these positive changes.

  • What does this future community look like? What are you seeing, hearing, feeling, experiencing that tells you things are significantly different, and that real and sustainable change is happening? What is possible for you now that was not in 2018?
  • What is different about the way women of diverse races and ethnicities interact and engage with one another? How, specifically, is this affecting you and your life?
  • What initiatives did we start in 2018 that fueled these changes? What role did you play?
  • If you had three wishes to implement positive change in social systems that are pivotal to equity and mutuality for women, what would they be?

What might be possible if we begin to have dialogues about building communities that work for everyone? Conversations about what we want, instead of interactions focused on resisting or criticizing what is. What future would you like to bring about? I encourage  you to become a conversational catalyst for positive change.

This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of WNC Woman.

Restoring Civility to Our Conversations

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Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, Founders of the Institute for Civility in Government, define civility as “claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” It is more than just being polite. It is about our ability and willingness to have robust and respectful conversations about community, choices, and civic duty with people who hold different views.

There are so many important topics begging for civil conversations. To name a few:

  • Women’s healthcare rights
  • Racial equity and social justice
  • The environment and climate change
  • Immigration
  • Education

Much of our discourse on these topics has become polarized and politically charged. The tone and direction of these interactions is typically destructive—impacting our health and wellbeing as well as our relationships. Such negativity and hostility triggers a physiological stress response. Cortisol and other stress hormones flood our system, repressing our immune system, fueling fear, and restricting access to the creativity and critical thinking so necessary for finding our way forward together. That’s not good for anyone and not helpful for resolving the complex issues we face today.

What if each of us chose to stop engaging in these debates and word matches—whether in our own minds, on the internet, or with another person? What if instead we chose to shift the conversation, inviting civility simply by asking questions that demonstrate care and respect while creating a positive tone and direction for the interaction?

Here are a few suggestions for how you might use questions to shift a conversation. Ask questions to:

  1. Establish genuine connection. Build rapport before sharing your contrary ideas. Adopt a mindset that says: “I want to know who you are, I value you and what’s happening for you, I want to hear what you have to say and why it’s important to you.”For example, someone says something about white privilege that you disagree with. Take a deep breath and ask them questions: “I’d like to hear more about what you think and how you feel. How does this impact you and your life?”
  2. Create shared understanding. Invite a conversation that helps you and the other person understand one another, without getting into solutions. Adopt a mindset that says: ”I want to understand where you are coming from and why you believe as you do. I want you to understand where I’m coming from and to see if we can find some common ground.” For example, someone makes a comment about immigration with which you disagree. Take a deep breath and ask them questions:“Why do you believe that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” “What has been your experience; how is this impacting you?” Once they feel fully heard, ask them if they will listen to understand your thoughts and feelings. You will be surprised at how often people open up when they feel heard.
  3. Discover strengths and best practices. Before moving to solutions, it is often
    helpful to first discover strengths in the current situation and what is working in other places. This step usually comes once you’ve established rapport and understand one another. The conversation is a little more open because of that. For example, you’ve been talking about healthcare with someone who holds different opinions about it. You might ask: ”What’s contributing to your health and wellbeing? Tell me about a time when the healthcare system worked well for you.” “Are you aware of any unique solutions that our community or another one offers?”
  4. Clarify shared outcomes. Again, this comes after rapport and shared understanding. Questions here invite a conversation that moves away from how you disagree and towards what you both would like to see happen. You might ask: ”What outcome are you hoping for and what are the benefits of that outcome that you think are important?” “What future vision might allow both of us to feel good about it?” “What is most important for you in order to move forward?”
  5. Identify possibilities. Finally, you can invite a conversation that inspires possibilities. If this follows a shared vision, you’re now in a conversation working towards the same outcome or some shared aspects of the future: ”What might be possible here? What opportunities might we create or what pathways could we design to achieve our shared outcome?” “How might we move towards what we agree on?”

If we all decided to foster civility, we just might start catalyzing relationships across divides, shared understanding, common ground, and possibilities for a future that could work for everyone. At the very least, we might restore a sense of unity and care for one another, even when we agree to disagree. And that would have a positive impact for each of us.

This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of WNC Woman.

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You can learn more about the three practices in this article in a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres, Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. The work is grounded in Appreciative Inquiry, one of the most effective and widely used approaches for fostering positive change. www.conversationsworthhaving.today.

Make it the Best School Year Yet!

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All across the country school is beginning.  Labor Day officially marks the end of the summer for everyone. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or favorite neighbor, help the kids you interact with have a great school year by talking about what they love about school, focus on highpoint experiences, mutually positive friendships, and using their strengths!

Conversations with Kids

Kids are notorious for monosyllabic responses to our queries about how their day went. “Nothin’” or “Yeah” is often all we get. So, ask questions that take them by surprise, require a little more thought and a few more words:

  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What are five things you’re grateful for?
  • What questions did you have at school?
  • How did you use your superpowers?
  • How were you a great friend or classmate?

With each one of these, follow up on whatever they answer, deepening understanding and helping them tell a great story about something that happened for them that was positive, uplifting, and strengthening. In the beginning it may be a little like pulling teeth, but over time, you’ll find these conversations come more easily and expand on their own.  Your kids will anticipate your questions and begin paying attention to highpoints in their day, things they are grateful for, how they use their strengths, and what they are most curious about.

 Conversations with Teachers

From time to time you’ll have the opportunity to interact with your child’s teachers at parent-teacher conferences and open houses. Early in the year, make an effort to have at least one personal interaction with your children’s teachers. Show you care about them having a good year and being successful. Ask how you and your family can support their aspirations.

Learn a bit about who they are and what their hopes and expectations are for the children in their classes. During the year and when appropriate, with permission from your child, share highlights from some of their highpoint experiences in the class. Teachers often hear only what’s wrong. Understanding what’s working well for kids reinforces those activities and lets the teacher know what they are doing is working.

 

When you meet to discuss your child, ask questions that support a positive educational experience:

  •  What do you see as my child’s strengths and how does he/she use them in class?
  • What strengths does my child exhibit in working and playing well with other children?
  • From what you know, how can my child best contribute to your class?
  • If you had three wishes for my child, what would they be?

For additional questions you can ask your child or teacher, sign up for our newsletter!

Please share YOUR wisdom! Use comments below to share questions you’ve asked that generate great conversations with kids. What have you found as ways to engage with kids to help them have their best year yet in school?

Dealing with Divisiveness

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This week I was in a conversation with a group of business leaders about how to have a conversation worth having with someone who’s actions are sabotaging efforts to maintain a strong team. They described a team member who has created a sub-group within the team. He talks negatively about others when they aren’t around and in general seeds distrust and exclusion. At meetings he makes eye contact with members of his clique, using body language to convey disagreement or disapproval, but does not offer up his thoughts to the whole group. Have you encountered someone like this?

Here are some ideas for having a conversation worth having with this kind of team member. These ideas surfaced in our group conversation:

Establish Team Norms and Practice Them

  1. As a whole team, have a conversation to establish team norms or rules of engagement. In order to make sure everyone weighs in, use “rounds” to gather ideas. In other words, go around the group and invite each person to make a suggestion. After their suggestion, you move to the next person. People can pass, but everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Keep going around until everyone says pass and there are no more ideas. If you have a lot of ideas, work together to cluster concepts that can be included in an umbrella concept.  Then choose the 5-6 norms that everyone believes will support a strong, cohesive team capable of excellence.
  2. Have a conversation around each of the norms, clarifying what behaviors support this norm and what behaviors do not. You might even ask, “Share a story about a time when these norms contributed to our success as a team. Describe specifically how the norms showed up.” When you’ve arrived at shared understanding and meaning for each of the norms, have each team member give individual, public commitment to follow these norms and to hold one another accountable.
  3. Begin meetings with the norms posted on a wall. Invite everyone to support team excellence by following them. At the end of the meeting, have a quick learning conversation: Overall, how’d we do in maintaining our team norms (thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down)? What did we do well? What might we do to improve our practice?

 Have a Discovery Conversation

  • First, reflect and create an open mind. Get really curious instead of being judgmental. It’s likely there is a lot you don’t know:
    • What assumptions are you making?
    • What don’t know you?
    • What might be the motivation behind his actions?
    • What’s going on for him that this is his behavior?
    • Does he feel unseen, excluded in some way?
    • Is he fearful to express his opinions openly?
    • Does he realize how his actions are impacting the team?

The only way to find out the answers is to engage in a conversation with him. If you are truly open, curious, and looking for a positive outcome, your tone will be inviting when you speak.

  • Take time to create a positive frame for your conversation. Your focus might be: We all contribute to ensuring a collaborative and cohesive team.
  • Set up a time to talk with him in private. Share your intention to talk about everyone on the team contributing to collaboration and cohesiveness. Here are ideas for that conversation:
    • Begin by sharing a story of when you witnessed him at his best, collaborating and contributing to team success.  Share what you see as his strengths and how he contributes to the team. Lead into the conversation by saying, “I am puzzled about what I’ve been noticing recently (say what you’ve noticed).
      • What’s going on for you?
      • What’s that about?”
      • Are you aware of the impact your actions are having on the team?
    • Tell me about a time when you thought you were at your best contributing to overall team success.
    • What did you value about yourself and others in your story?
    • What might you do to have more experiences like this? How might the team support you?

 The Toxic Employee

If you’ve had many conversations and worked to support positive change and still the person continues to polarize and sabotage, they are toxic to the team and the organization. Instead of continuing to have conversations about everyone contributing to a collaborative and cohesive team, you’ll be designing a conversation focused on removing the person from the company.

How to Be Happier

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I recently heard Professor Laurie Santos, Yale University, speak on positive education. The statistics about college student wellness flew in the face of what she and most of us might think. Instead of being the happiest days of their lives, way too many students felt hopeless, depressed enough to seek help, and were overly stressed. The suicide rate, including students at Yale, was  unprecedented.  She decided to offer a course on the science of positive psychology and the science of behavioral change: Psychology and the Good Life.

Hoping the class would make, she was stunned as enrollment went from 100 (high enrollment for any class at Yale) to 1000 and eventually 25% of the student body! The only place large enough to hold the class was the concert hall. Clearly, there was a hunger for understanding and learning to be happy and healthy in today’s world.  The good news: There is plenty of science to support what it takes to lead the good life as well as what practices will generate the good life. Here are the key lessons students learn in her class:

  1. We can control more of our happiness than we think. At least 40% of our happiness is determined by our thoughts, actions, and attitudes (all within our control).
  2. It takes work to become happier; it takes daily practice.
  3. Your mind is lying to you a lot of the time. What we think will make us happy, in fact, does not.
  4. Make time for social connections. Any meaningful connection improves wellbeing.
  5. Make time for gratitude every day. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal.
  6. Establish healthy practices: 30 minutes of exercise daily, 7-8 hours of sleep every night, eat a good nutritious diet.
  7. Be wealthy in time. Once basic needs are sufficiently met, more wealth doesn’t correlate with greater happiness.

This is the most popular class Yale has ever offered. Hungry for happiness yourself? Now you can take her course free online at Coursera: The Science of Wellbeing.  You can also watch a series on Youtube: Part 1.

Start by taking the Authentic Happiness Inventory, a free online quiz. This will give you a baseline. Then take her course. Commit yourself to the practices and see how your happiness changes. One additional recommendation: Pay attention to the conversations you are having with others. Words will either enhance or deplete happiness. (See Conversations Worth Having).