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Turning the Tide of Our Conversations

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Create Positive Change, One Conversation at a Time.

Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros are committed to shifting the nature of the conversations people are having in the world. They know that we move and grow in the direction of our conversations and the questions that we ask, so it only makes sense to talk about what we want . . . for ourselves, our families, our workplaces, communities, nation, and the world. The only thing stopping us from creating organizations and communities that thrive is us: Let’s start having conversations worth having.

The American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting

Cheri Torres and Mike Feinson spoke to Association Executives at the ASAE 2019 Annual Meeting in Columbus, OH. The theme of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity was threaded through many presentations. It seems to be the hot topic these days for organizations committed to thriving in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Cheri and Mike specifically spoke on crowdsourcing solutions for wicked problems by engaging association members. Participants had the opportunity to name their wicked problem, flip it and then frame an affirmative topic. They walked away with a set of generative questions they might ask their members and a draft design for how they might engage people in crowdsourcing solutions. More at Crowdsource Members to Propel Ideas and Projects Forward by Tim Ebner.

Recently, Jackie spoke at Western Michigan University, a university with over 20,000 students. It was a packed day for her! In the morning she delivered a 3-hour professional development workshop on The Power of a Conversation for 100 academic and administrative leaders.  In the afternoon Jackie delivered a 90-minute interactive presentation on a condensed version of the morning session for more than 200 staff.  The HR Director shared her gratitude saying, “This was spot-on!”

WomanUP

Cheri was honored to have the opportunity to speak with 450 women business leaders (and a few smart men!) at the WomanUP event sponsored by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. They learned and then applied the two simple practices from their book, Conversations Worth Having, on issues relevant in their own businesses. Women left ready to change the nature of their conversations!

Putting it into action. Among the many ideas for how these women were going to take these practices forward was Meredith Switzer, Executive Director for Homeward Bound, who said, “I really enjoyed the experience. I see the need and value in utilizing the AI model in our environment. It’s especially important because we work with some the community’s most vulnerable, those experiencing homelessness. As a result, I plan to do a book study with my Senior Staff.” Cheri sent her the CWH Bookclub slides and Study Group Guide to support her effort.

Our first cohort of CWH Trainers.
We are so excited about this group!

CWH Trainer Certification

In August, Cheri and Jackie hosted the first pilot CWH Trainer program in Sacramento, CA. This pilot group was made possible by Michael Grabow. Cheri and Jackie are grateful for his encouragement and persistence! These amazing humans are already sharing the practices and incorporating them into their on-going training. In addition to Michael, they include Christell Bechtold, Deb Connors, Wendy Farrell, Bev Hollis, Kris Lea, Maureen (Mo) McKenna, and Sylvette Wake.

And the team of trainers is growing! In mid-September, Cheri and Jackie head to Burlington, VT to meet with their second cohort of CWH trainers working towards CWH Trainer Certification. [Many of those seen in the feature picture of this blog – members of our first set of Bootcamps – will be in this second cohort!] Cheri and Jackie are committed to growing a global team of people interested in shifting the nature of the conversations we have in the world. For certified trainers, Cheri and Jackie are making all their materials, workbooks, slides, and videos available. Trainers can co-brand and integrate the materials into their own training. If you’re a trainer, facilitator, coach, consultant, or just want to be part of this movement, please join us. Find out more here.

The Organization Development Network Conference

Complexity and the need for agility are being felt by everyone. In October, Cheri and Jackie are headed to the ODN2019 Conference in Las Vegas. Joan McArther-Blair and Jeanie Cockell, will partner with Cheri and Jackie to deliver a multi-media, experiential keynote address entitled Navigating Complexity and Transformation through Resilient Conversations. We will be drawing from each of our books, Conversations Worth Having and Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. If you’re in the field of organization development, Human Resources, or simply a leader looking for ways to work in the rapidly changing workplace, consider joining them!

Cheri Torres is Lead Catalyst and CEO at Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement through everyday conversation. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Conversation: The Lifeblood of Well-being and Success

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Conversations are something we often take for granted, despite how pervasive they are. We are almost always in dialogue with ourselves or with others, and these conversations heavily influence our well-being and our relationships. Most of the time, we don’t pay enough attention to words and how they’re used; we just react to them. However, in a world that increasingly produces fake news and “alternative facts,” we are quickly becoming more aware of the power of language and its influence on our lives and on the future.

Like the Water in Which Fish Swim

A conversation is like the water in which fish swim. And just like fish, if our conversations are toxic, we fail to thrive. Research in epigenetics, neurophysiology, and positive psychology have helped uncover and measure the various ways words impact us — some researchers have tracked the biological effects of words, monitoring the triggers and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. These biochemical reactions influence our ability to connect and engage with others, think critically and creatively, and thrive in the face of challenge.

Fortunately, conversations are something that we can manage and control. We can take the driver’s seat and choose to have conversations that encourage meaningful relationships that flourish. Considering how important conversations can be in any organization or business, this critical element of communication can make or break the collective success.

Harnessing the Power of Conversation

Harnessing the power of conversation means stepping into the possibility of engaging the full potential of every stakeholder in the future success of a business or community. Imagine unleashing the creative imagination present in any group of people who are innovating products and services or solving complex challenges. You can easily spark this kind of productive and rich engagement simply by changing the conversational tone and direction. In my latest book, Conversations Worth Havingthere are many stories of organizations that have done exactly this. These stories of success all share two common themes: they’ve used the simple practices of positive framing and generative questions.

  • Positive framing is simply structuring outcomes in terms of what you want instead of what you don’t want, and encouraging people to think about the best possible path forward. Too often, we get caught up discussing the problem, searching for root causes, and complaining. Instead, flip the problem to its positive opposite and talk about what you want and the outcomes you are hoping for. For example, instead of talking about low performance and why it is occurring so that you can fix it, talk about high performance, what it looks like, what supports it, and how we might all aspire to it. This important shift in focus unleashes excitement, energy, and creativity in people.
  • Generative questions are questions where you don’t have the answers, and you are hoping to inspire others to find them. They may make the invisible visible, surface different perspectives, generate information and new knowledge, and create possibilities for moving towards shared visions and solutions. Problems can be addressed with far more creative and innovative solutions because of the nature of the conversation. Below are some potential generative questions to get you started:
    • When have you been part of a high-performance team? Describe that experience.
    • What did you value about yourself and others in that experience?
    • What factors contributed to it being a high-performance experience?
    • How might we use this information to support all teams all the time in sustaining high performance?

Commit to Conversations Worth Having

These outcome-focused and inquiry-based interactions create conditions that enable people to connect, collaborate, and bring their best creative selves to the task at hand. This has a positive dual outcome: individual well-being improves, and the company or community prospers. It’s that simple, and yet it’s not always easy. We are wired to scan for threats and problems. Being in charge of your words and conversations requires mindfulness and commitment. The first step is to become aware of the kind of conversations you are having. For the next couple of days, pay attention. Become more attune to the subtle shifts in your sense of well-being, depending on the conversation. Pay attention to what conversations give life to you and others. Choose to focus on what you want and to adopt an attitude of curiosity.

Using positive framing and generative questions can launch you and your organization into a more trusting and connected team of people working toward a shared goal. But first, you have to start with evaluating what kinds of conversations you’re currently having and determining where you hope to go. The outcome feels like magic.

This article first appeared in BK Publishing Ideas.

Cheri Torres is Lead Catalyst and CEO at Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement through everyday conversation. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Upcoming Training for Conversations Worth Having

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Register now for our Fall Conversation Bootcamps. These online 4-week live webinars will offer you the opportunity to enhance your capacity to foster conversations worth having at home, in your workplace, and in the community.

The Conversation Bootcamp focuses on the two simple practices found in our book, Conversations Worth Having. You’ll receive a digital workbook with weekly activities to deepen your practice and support conversation habits that build strong relationships, increase well-being, and foster success. The 4 week series begins September 17, 2019, 11-12:30 Eastern Time Zone. All sessions are recorded in case you miss a class.

The 4-week Strategic Conversation Bootcamp begins October 30th, 1-2:30 also Eastern Time Zone. It will focus on using generative questions and positive framing specifically in the workplace to fuel organizational success. A digital workbook will support your journey into strategic conversations. You will use the SOAR framework to foster strategic conversations with your colleagues and you will learn to craft an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to support a whole system engagement in an AI 5-D Cycle. All sessions are recorded in case you miss a class.

The Rapidly Changing Workplace

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More and more, organizations are asking: How do we respond effectively in this world of rapid change, uncertainty and ambiguity? It’s becoming quite clear that our current business models—top-down hierarchies—are incapable of the agility and resilience needed to be effective. The need is significant: Organization Development and Human Resource associations are hosting conferences focused on these two areas. Leaders open to change are discovering that the solution lies in shifting the way they do business; in redesigning the organization in ways that allow all members to be fully engaged and more autonomous. 

Appreciative Inquiry and Design Thinking Approach

Facilitative leaders are using processes that support the emergence of collective intelligence, such as design thinking, Appreciative Inquiry, and World Café. Self-organizing business models are emerging. These are organizations with no middle management and no top-down structure. Highly engaged and collaborative teams make decisions at the local level. The organization as a whole is grounded in collectively determined organizational values, mission, and vision and self-organization teams align their decisions and actions. These structures are proving to be both effective and nimble as well as highly profitable. For a deep dive into these organizations and how they work, read Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations.

There is one common denominator across all the effective approaches to working in our complex world: communication that fosters psychological safety and high engagement. To be more specific, these organizations recognize the importance and value of communicating in ways that generate a culture of safety, inclusion, trust, and mutual respect and they recognize that people at every level of the organization are creative and can add value. Psychological safety means everyone is engaging with their whole brain: pre-frontal lobe and neo-cortex. These centers of the brain support creativity, higher order thinking, and connection. People working together from this mindset are more concerned about we than me, they naturally access emotional intelligence and creative intelligence, and their conversations more easily generate collective intelligence.

In Conversations Worth Having we make the communication practices that foster such relationships explicit. It is simple. There are only two practices: Positive Framing and Generative Questions. Positive framing is simply talking about what you want (for the relationship, team, customer, organization) instead of what you don’t want. Focusing on outcomes and possibilities still solves problems and it does so while motivating and inspiring people. For example, if someone is doing something incorrectly, talk about how to do it correctly. If the team is not performing well, talk about exceptional teamwork.

Gervase Bushe

Asking generative questions supports psychological safety. These are questions that invite diverse perspectives into the conversation, create shared understanding, and support innovation. Gervase Bushe defines generative questions as shifting the way people think and creating compelling images for action. People prepared to ask generative questions are powerful contributors to the success of relationships, teams, and organizations.

For example, new technology disrupts your industry and threatens your organization’s competitive advantage. Responding from fear with command and control leadership puts you at a disadvantage in many ways. Instead, engaging all stakeholders by asking generative questions opens the door for creative solutions: How might we take advantage of this technology to maintain our competitive edge? How could this shift the way we engage with our customers?

Organizations that invite full engagement and autonomy at every level empower people to respond in-the-moment. An employee empowered to engage in a conversation worth having with an upset customer and then to respond immediately in ways that create a loyal customer makes your organization far more agile and effective.

Conversations worth having by their very structure support psychological safety as well as agility. In such environments, people come alive and thrive and your organization uses it full capacity to respond to our VUCA world.

To learn more about how you can foster conversations worth having, download a free Conversation Toolkit at www.conversationsworthhaving.today.

Cheri Torres is Lead Catalyst and CEO at Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement through everyday conversation. cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today

Try a 30-Day Conversation Cleanse

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A cleanse is designed to make something thoroughly clean, to clear out toxins in order to restore health. I’ve always associated a cleanse with clean food, juicing, water, and supplements. I’m intrigued by the idea of doing a 30-day conversation cleanse.

Conversation Effects Our Health and Well-being

Our health and well-being are most definitely affected by what we put in our bodies – what we eat, drink, and inhale – and how we clean and take care of our bodies.  Our health and well-being are also significantly affected by our conversations—the ones we have with ourselves and with others. Research documents the effect our words have on our health and well-being:

Why not try a 30-day conversation cleanse: Transform your words into conversations worth having. Make sure your interactions have an affirmative tone and positive direction, triggering the release of happiness hormones, which fortify you physically and support your mental and emotional well-being. This doesn’t mean avoiding conflict or problems. You can handle whatever comes your way in an appreciative way, in a way that values what is and moves towards a positive outcome. 

You’re not going to be able to stop all negativity or eliminate negative emotions; that probably wouldn’t even be healthy. That being said, most of the negativity in our conversations isn’t worthwhile and has a detrimental effect on our lives and relationships. Research shows that a healthy ratio of positive to negative interaction is about 4:1.

Shifting from negativity to positivity is simply a matter of focusing your conversations on what you want and asking questions. If you’re about to complain, instead, talk about what you’d like to have happen. If you’re about to criticize someone, pause and ask questions to help you understand their actions. If you’re blaming yourself, pause and ask yourself what you will do differently the next time or what you can do to correct a situation.

3 Simple Steps to Help You Cleanse

Here are simple steps you can follow for the next 30 days. 

  1. Begin each day with a commitment to pay attention to your words and how they are affecting you and others. 
  2. Practice shifting negative interactions into positive ones:
    • Catch yourself thinking negatively or engaged in a negative conversation (complaining, blaming, shaming, putting yourself or others down, criticizing). PAUSE, breathe, and get curious.
    • Ask generative questions: Questions that stimulate curiosity, surface new information and knowledge, build understanding and connection, and create possibilities.
    • Create a positive frame: Reframe the conversation so you are talking about what you want instead of what you don’t want. Talk about what might be possible and how to achieve it instead of what’s impossible.
  3. Keep a journal and track your positive to negative conversations. At the end of the day, reflect on times you caught yourself thinking negatively (about yourself or others) and how you shifted those conversations. If you weren’t able to shift to the positive in the moment, write the Do Over in your journal. Rethink that conversation: What questions might you have asked that could have shifted the tone and direction of the conversation. Reflect on your sense of well-being at the end of each day and track any correlation with your conversations.

How Does It Work?

Here’s how it worked for me last week. I was listening to my husband share a conversation he had had with a young man that he was advising. My critic stepped forward to speak. I saw her coming, and paused, took a breath, and got curious. Instead of allowing my critic to speak, I asked, “How did Dave respond?” My husband shared Dave’s response, which deepened the story and why my husband was giving him this advice. In a past life (not that long ago), I would have jumped in to share why I disagreed with his advice. That would have side-tracked his story and catapulted us into a critical conversation. It would have ended badly: me feeling guilty about being judgmental; my husband feeling angry and unlikely to share with me again. It would not have been a conversation worth having. As it was, being mindful of my critical thought and shifting it to curiosity meant we stayed in his conversation, he felt heard, I learned a bit more about him, and I learned more about myself. I’m committing to at least 30 more days of this!

Join me in a 30-day conversation cleanse. You can download your free conversation toolkit at www.conversationsworthhaving.today. If you do the cleanse, please share your experience with me! cheri@conversationsworthhaving.today.

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

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.