Restoring Trust with the Poetic Principle

Sep 14, 2023
People united in a group hand cheer portraying trust in leadership.

If the focus of attention influences our beliefs and the stories we make up about people and situations (Poetic Principle), then it makes sense to talk about and pay attention to what’s working, what’s best, and what’s possible (Stavros and Torres, 2022).

Toes tapping and shoulders shrugging I’m bopping along to the 1960’s hit “Poetry in Motion” (Time Light Pictures, 2014) as I write this week’s blog. Why? Well, we experienced the Poetic Principle in action today during the first of our Fall Monday Kickstarters, and the session felt graceful, beautiful … sheer poetry in motion. After creating a powerful positive frame around restoring trust in a leadership team, the group generated questions focused on what’s working, what’s best, and what’s possible. Try using positive framing and asking generative questions when working with your team: You’ll experience poetry in motion too.

Positive Frame

Name it:  Our leadership team received poor inputs related to trust in an employee engagement survey.

Flip it: The leadership team receives good inputs about trust.

Frame it: We have a collaborative spirit and creative problem-solving is co-authored by the team and leadership.

Other Suggested Frames:

  • Employees trust leadership, are highly engaged and productive at work. Retention levels are high.
  • Employee expertise is solicited and included.
  • Employees are self-directed in their approach towards meeting goals.

Generative Questions

Once the frame was in place, the group created generative questions that could create a conversation worth having, one in which everyone would want to participate. 

Question for Self

  • What can I do to inspire trust in me among my team and the leadership team?

 Questions for Others

  • When employees trusted management before, what were leaders doing?
  • What good practices has the leadership team used to problem-solve in the past?
  • How can we embrace the whole person who works in our organization? What fresh thinking will propel our organization forward?
  • How can we best engage our authentic informal leaders or those who have a high level of connectedness within the organization?
  • How might we start the discussion about working together? Town Hall? Retreat?
  • What are we assuming about our employees’ perspectives about management?
  • What do the team members consider their sense of pride in their work? How can leadership support that work?
  • What creative resources could the team or leadership tap into to better structure/facilitate communication?
  • What processes are in place for the team to communicate needs to leadership? Are these processes encouraging or discouraging the free flow of information?

Cool Tip! 

A positive frame opens the door to conversations that move us toward what everyone in the conversation wants and inspires curiosity, imagination, and interest (Stavros and Torres, 2022). In order to achieve such a frame, it is useful to include both the practical aspects of the positive flip and a sense of the feeling or atmosphere that would be generated if the flip were true as demonstrated in today’s positive frame. In other words, how we want to feel is as important as what we want to do.


  • Stavros, J., & Torres, C. (2022).  Conversations worth having. Using appreciative inquiry to fuel productive and meaningful engagement. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Time Light Pictures. (2014, February, 22). Johhny Tillotson - Poetry In motion remastered (Video). YouTube.
  • Photo by: Dio Hasbi Saniskoro for Pexels

Monday Kickstarters

This topic came from our Fall 2023 Monday Kickstarters series, working sessions to figure out how to have a conversation worth having when faced with a tough situation, challenge, or problem on leadership or performance. Do you have a tough situation you’d like reframing? Join us on September 18th for Monday Kickstarters. Register at The Center for Appreciative Inquiry or at Conversations Worth Having.

Contributed by: Sylvette Wake, a certified Conversations Worth Having and Strategic Conversations Facilitator.


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