All Posts By

Cheri Torres

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).

The Role of Conversation in Creative Problem-Solving

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I recently spoke with creativity consultant and expert, Dr. Amy Climer, about the role conversation plays in her work to ignite creativity for teams. Amy affirms, “Conversation plays a BIG role in creativity. How someone reacts to other people’s ideas either elevates or kills creativity in the moment.” She emphasized that creativity requires people to be open to one another, making it safe for people to brainstorm without fear of criticism.  She noted that she encourages specific and positive framing for each step of the 4-part process. “You have to make room for divergent thinking before convergent thinking.”  She goes on to say, “Creativity is not linear, but the process is presented in a linear/cyclical way. In practice, it might mean moving back and forth between two stages before moving forward. Understanding the process helps team members know what kind of conversation is appropriate at any given point on their journey towards creative outcomes.”

The Importance of Conversation and Process

Amy emphasizes that both conversation and process are important for creativity. She teaches teams to begin with conversations that clarify their purpose. Such conversations help team members develop a shared understanding about the focus of their session, the needs, the outcomes, and any criteria needed for creative solutions. The next step in the process, Ideation, calls for conversations grounded in openness. People need to feel safe throwing out ideas without fear of being judged.

Generative Questions Are Essential

Asking generative questions inspires creativity. “Generative questions play an important role in fostering creativity and those questions differ depending upon where we are in the process,” Amy says. She goes on to say there are specific sentence stems that she teaches teams to use, such as “How might we . . .?” Such questions don’t ask for a single answer (compared to “How should we . . .”) they encourage ideation, creativity, and imagination. Further questions begin with

  • What are all the ways we might . . .?
  • In what ways might we . . .?
  • How to  . . . ?

Amy says lots of people want to analyze or critique ideas as they come up. She continuously reminds people to stick to the process.  “Part of the reason,” she explains, “is we use different parts of the brain for ideation and assessment. Assessment and critique actually shut down the parts of the brain we need for ideation and creativity.” People who excel at analysis are encouraged to know that in the next phase the conversation will shift to convergent thinking where they select the best ideas.” At this time, questions change again. Conversations are around converging on the ideas that will meet agreed upon criteria, support best outcomes, and deliver on results. Once an idea is selected, the conversation shifts again. This time guided by questions such as, “How might we implement this idea?” and “Who needs to do what for this to be successful?” Tone and direction for the conversation is about breathing life into the idea: Prototyping or piloting, planning, and taking responsibility.

4 Principles for Creativity Conversations

I asked Amy if there are common principles at play for her clients who successfully have conversations that foster creativity. She confirmed there are four:

  1. BE OPEN. Have an open mindset and be willing to be influenced. “It’s important to hang in and see what happens. If a few people are open, it helps make it safer for everyone else to be open.”
  2. EXPECT MANY POSSIBILITIES. Be aware there is no “right” answer.
  3. HOLD A WE ATTITUDE. When team members are humble and unconcerned about getting credit for having the selected answer, the team is usually more creative and more successful.
  4. EMBRACE DIVERSITY. Understand and accept the unique and even sometimes quirkiness of your team members. Recognize and value differences and different styles.

Amy also pointed out that it is important for team members to recognize how important each person’s words and actions are. Any one person can derail or uplift the conversation any time they speak (verbally or non-verbally). “It is not just the leader who has power,” Amy notes, “Every team member has great power. And with great power comes great responsibility.”

Amy Climer, Ph.D.   Dr. Amy Climer works with teams who want to be amazing, collaborate at a higher level, and solve problems creatively. Her clients describe her as approachable, inspiring, and transformative. Amy has a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change. She developed the Deliberate Creative™ Teams Scale to help teams understand how to increase their creativity. Amy is the host of The Deliberate Creative™ Podcast where she shares practical advice and strategies to help leaders build innovative teams. Connect with Amy and learn more at climerconsulting.com.

Check out Amy’s podcasts on Conversations Worth Having.

Note: The process Amy uses is called Creative Problem Solving. There are 4 stages: Clarify, Ideate, Develop, Implement. There is a visual and more details at climerconsulting.com/003.

“Tough Conversations” Is an Illusion!

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What if tough conversations were only tough because of our mindset? Most of us use this label when we don’t know how to have a conversation without hurting someone’s feelings or telling someone they are wrong. Such situations threaten our sense of belonging, which is a primary survival instinct for all of us. Our nervous systems are wired much the same as they were 50,000 years ago when rejection meant death. Without realizing it, the same fight-flight-flee-appease reactions occur today whenever we feel threatened. Whoever initiates such a conversation risks being rejected by the other, and the other person defends themselves for fear of being rejected. This is what makes these tough conversations. We’re not really communicating. We’re protecting ourselves.

Knowing this is power! We are the ones making meaning of situations that seem to call for tough conversations. What if instead we saw these situations as opportunities to make our tribe smarter, stronger, more capable of excellence and creativity? What if we instead labeled these success conversations? If we reframed these situations in this way, we would be more likely to address them immediately – when the stakes are much lower.  We would bring a different frame of mind and attitude to the conversation—one that was more open, curious, and eager, on both sides.  We would be more inclined to ask questions and offer support in ways that uplifted. And we would be more likely to be encouraging and celebrate successes. This means we would truly be communicating with one another: Connecting and strengthening our relationships and the group.

To see how easy it is to have success conversations, check out the critical feedback given by school children in Austin’s Butterfly. Notice the tone in their voices as they critique his butterfly. Watch their body language as they offer suggestions. Witness how they reinforce his improvements and how they celebrate with utter joy his final picture. As adults, we’re not likely to have a conversation with Austin to correct his mistakes because we don’t want to hurt his feelings; after all, he’s just a little boy.  But look what he is capable of after a series of success conversations!

Next time you face a tough conversation ask yourself a few questions that will help you turn it into a conversation worth having: A success conversation:

  1. How might I be an advocate for success (my own or the other’s) in this conversation?
  2. What might be possible if together we discover what needs changing to turn the current situation into success or excellence?
  3. How am I contributing to the problem and how might I be part of the solution?
  4. What don’t I know that I can only discover by asking questions? (What’s going on for the other person? What do they know that I don’t? What do I know that they need to know? What is needed for success?)

Choose to be part of creating a climate of excellence. Stop thinking about having tough conversations and start having success conversations!

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