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How Do Your Conversations Feel?

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This month I, Jackie Stavros, was invited to share Conversations Worth Having at the Natural View Marketplace and Wellness Medspa in my hometown, Brighton, Michigan. I opened with a question … How many of you want to live a healthy, good life? Naturally, everyone raised their hand and I shared, “There is both magic and science behind being able to do that!”

I asked everyone to engage in a short exercise (you can try right now as well, if you’d like): Reflect on a conversation you experienced that was critical, destructive, or crappy. A time when you were angry with one of your kids, boss, or spouse, perhaps you lost a game, or  someone sucked energy out of you.”

Then I asked the group to turn to someone and share how that conversation made them feel? The energy in the room was low as well as the conversation tone.

Then I asked each person to sit up tall, take three deep breaths, and smile.  I  invited them to close their eyes again and reflect on a conversation that was uplifting, happy, joyous, or life-affirming. A conversation that was appreciative in nature. Then I asked them to share with the same person how this conversation felt and how reliving it made them feel now. This time the energy level was high!  There was laughter, people were smiling, and I had a hard time getting their attention back.

This is what our book, Conversations Worth Having, is all about!  Conversations are how we interact with our self and others, and it influences our and others wellbeing!  I briefly shared my writing journey with Cheri Torres, and then gave everyone a copy of our Conversations Quick Start Pocket Guide,which highlights the Appreciative Inquiry principles and the two practices from the book: How to choose a positive frame and ask generative questions.

Think about the nature of your conversations:  Your conversation can make all the difference in your life or someone else’s.  We are very grateful to Stephanie Schlueter, Manager of Natural View Market for both suggesting and providing the venue for this event.  Stephanie shared,

“Conversations Worth Havinghas shifted the way I enter, engage, and react in my daily conversations. It has opened my eyes to how easy it is to shift from impulsive, emotional reactivity to productive, mindful conversations. When this book came to me, I was adjusting to the ‘adult’ phase in my life. I had taken on several new roles: becoming a manager, a wife; I felt overwhelmed at times by the obstacles and responsibilities that had come my way. After learning to practice the Appreciative Inquiry principles outlined in this book, I have been able to shift my viewpoint to focusing on the solutions that I am capable of pursuing instead of giving all my energy to the problems I face. This book has provided me with tools that have helped me to express myself genuinely, listen to and understand others, rearrange my responsibilities and become a more valuable version of myself- at work and home. It’s helped me deal with conflict in a more productive manner. By flipping my attitude and tone of the conversations I engage in, I find myself in a more balanced, peaceful state of mind. Jackie and Cheri – thank you so much for sharing this book with me. It came to me just when I needed it.”

A big thank to my family and friends for celebrating the launch of our book in Brighton, Michigan!

Sarah Silverman: Changing Everything by Changing the Conversation

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I recently learned about Sarah Silverman’ decision to “be nice” (see Drew Magary’s article Sarah Silverman is the Troll Slayer in GQ). If you’re not familiar with Silverman, she is a comedian known for her cutting and politically incorrect humor. She decided that “in this Trump era, our country is too divided” and she would stop feeding the animosity with divisive humor. Instead, she has changed her comic acts and the way she responds to the trolls who attack her on line.

I’m Right, You’re Wrong!

“People are very sure about what is right and wrong until it comes to their front door,” says Silverman. She no longer wants to fuel that divide, instead, she wants to bring it to their front door in a way that unlocks the door. Her goal for her work these days: to get at “the symptoms of why we are where we are.” She has made herself more vulnerable and she aims to make others feel more vulnerable as well. “If we can leave people with just their defenses down, not because we’re going to attack them, but just be a little bit more open, I feel like that’s a good thing. Is that going to change the world? Maybe just a little bit.”

And at least a little bit has changed. An example cited in GQ was her decision not to react to a scathing tweet from Jamrozy. Instead she listened more closely, scanning his tweets for the symptoms behind his tweet. She saw one comment indicating he has severe back pain. So, instead of responding to his racial slurs, she responded with empathy, “You’re in a lot of pain.” This message was so unexpected, it completely disarmed Jamrozy. A very different conversation ensued between them. From that conversation a relationship was nurtured. Silverman has supported him even paying for overdue medical bills related to his back.

Change the Conversation

What did it take for this shift from a destructive conversation to a conversation worth having? Silverman did three things:

  1. PAUSE, Breathe, decide to be real and vulnerable.
  2. Ask a question that unlocks something, making room for connection.
  3. Create a positive frame that says, “I see you; you matter.”

Silverman encourages us not to write anyone off: A conversation that allows people to truly connect has the power to change people. She says, “My job on the show, for me, is not to change minds. It’s to connect.”

I am inspired by Silverman and her simple, yet powerful strategy to shift destructive conversations into conversations worth having, where people connect as human beings.  Attack and defensiveness are doors that keep us safe. A simple question can unlock that door.

To learn more about how to turn critical and destructive conversations into  conversations that build connection, visit www.conversationsworthhaving.today and read Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement, available at your favorite bookstore or on Amazon.

The Dreaded Cocktail Party

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I dread cocktail parties. Chit chat about nothing with total strangers or stranding by myself trying to look comfortable.

So here I was going to one of these events at the behest of my spouse. I was determined this time to have a conversation worth having instead of the norm.  My intent was to truly connect and have energizing conversations.  When I arrived at the party I took some time to look around the room to see what was of interest. I’d recently read Will Wise’s book, Ask Powerful Questions, so I scanned the room to see what drew my attention and made me curious. I saw a couple point at something and then break into laughter; I wondered what was so funny. A man with a crazy tied walked by me headed to the bar; I wondered what the story was behind the tie. A woman stood gazing out a window with a rather forlorn look; I wondered what was going on for her and if she was okay.  I decided to head to the bar.

As I stood waiting for my drink, I introduced myself and asked, “What’s the story behind your tie?” To my delight, my cocktail buddy began sharing a heartfelt story about carrying on his dad’s tradition, which had started almost 30 years earlier. So many questions were sparked by his story, “Is this one of your dad’s ties? How did your dad get started doing this? Where do you find them?”  We had a vibrant and delightful conversation and we not only formed a real connection, we discovered we had things in common, like our dread of cocktail parties!

As the evening continued, I engaged in several more conversations. They each turned out to be a conversation worth having. I heard some great stories and discovered these events could be a delight. It is simply a matter of curiosity and questions!

How do you get conversations going at events like cocktail parties? Share your ideas for conversations worth having in unlikely places.

 

What CAN we do?

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“We were in a meeting to talk about how we could help the homeless.  Before long, the conversation was spiraling down the hopeless hole of overwhelm.  There were so many problems and so many reasons why we couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that. Every time anyone mentioned a suggestion, there were ten reasons why that idea was not a possibility. The energy was evaporating; it was like someone let all the air out of the room!” Sue was telling me about one of her first meetings with her church group that was committed to helping the homeless.

She went on, “I finally stopped the conversation and asked, ‘Well, what CAN we do?’” Sue shared that the conversation slowly started to turn.  Suggestions for who they could call to open doors led to the discovery that one person had already called a city official and gotten a maybe.  A couple others said they’d call that same person to encourage the maybe to become a yes. Sue’s eyes brightened as she recalled, “It was like magic. You could feel the energy come back in the room. Ideas started flowing, and people got excited about taking action!”

That was many months ago. That group has now made much progress and is exploring the possibility of micro paycheck loans and finance training.  “It’s not easy,” said Sue. “This can be a challenging population. And yet, we are moving forward, continuously asking ourselves, What can we do? every time we are faced with what feels like unending obstacles. It always changes our conversation!”

What Sue was practicing was Appreciative Inquiry. The art of asking questions that add value and generate possibility. Asking generative questions moves group towards what they want or the outcome they hope for. It results in a conversation worth having.

“I wish I’d known about Appreciative Inquiry when I was the Dean of Students,” Sue reflects. “I would have staff come in and melt down in my office. They would go on and on with major problems and so many reasons why nothing would help.  Now, I would ask them: What would you like to have happen? Or What would it be like if it was working? What a different conversation we would have had!”

Learn more about how to shift negative conversations in our book, Conversations Worth Having available May 22 at your favorite bookstore! Pre-order today at Amazon.

Question for you: What do you do to change a negative or downward spiraling interaction into a conversation worth having? Please comment so others can learn from you!

 

Talk about Immigration

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Family horror stories are becoming routine in communities across the United States. In my hometown, Asheville, a family man is picked up by ICE and taken to South Carolina for deportation. This man has been here for 10 years working and contributing to the community. He and his wife are raising a family of US born children. In Youngstown OH, a businessman is picked up by ICE, and threatened with with deportation to Jordon.  He’s been here for 30 years. He’s married to an American and has four American daughters [see Now This].

It All Begins With Conversation

These are two of hundreds of cases of families being terrorized and torn apart by conversations that are fueling fear and hate.  What kind of conversations are you having about immigration these days? Are they raising your blood pressure or stimulating connection and understanding? Are you dead set on your viewpoint or open to exploring alternative possibilities?

How Can You Change the Conversation?

Know the history and facts about volatile topics. The National Dialogues on Immigration hosted conversations grounded in the history of American immigration. Just Facts is also a good site to discover “just the facts” about immigration in the U.S.

Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine are using film to share stories of immigrant families. They hope these stories will spark dialogue, especially among conservative people, about immigrants in the U.S. They have five stories in their series called Resistance through Storytelling.

And what about the national conversation on immigration? Beyond partisan politics, what do we want our immigration policies to do? What do we want them to help us achieve as a county? How might having a shared desired outcome change the way we talk about our immigration? If we can have conversations that allow us to explore solutions that truly support the values of our country, we just might discover what makes America great again.

PLEASE SHARE: If your community is having conversations about immigration, especially across divides, please let us know what’s happening. Share the website or online article.

You Can’t Know It All So You Might As Well Be Curious!

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Adopt an attitude of curiosity about life. When we are genuinely curious, we naturally ask generative questions. Such questions:

  • Make room for diverse and different perspectives. How do you see it?
  • Surface new information and knowledge. How did they manage this process at your previous place of work?
  • Stimulate creativity and innovation. What might be possible if we . . .?

When dealing with any issue, even difficult issues, generative questions make unseen information visible and result in conversations that create trust, positive energy, and the transformative power to move the system forward in a desired direction. The result: new ways for solving complex problems and compelling images for collective action.  Here is a table from our book, Conversations Worth Having.

What Generative
Questions Can Do
Elicit information, stories, ideas, and perspectives
Tap experience
Allow strengths to show up
Show us best practices and elements of success
Move toward solutions or to information and data that inform possible solutions
Identify new ways of thinking, new possibilities, opportunities, and aspirations
Inform what we might do, the results we might want
Make room for new knowledge, creativity, and innovation
Deepen connections
Strengthen relationships
Engage those on the sidelines
Generate Understanding

Here’s an example that parents of teenagers will easily relate to. Monica, mother of a teenage boy, uses generative questions to change the conversational dynamic with her son. Monica had been in the midst of a recurring argument with her son, Aiden. She was tired of the same old interaction that never produced a way forward. Aiden wanted to borrow the car over the weekend to go ‘do things’ with his friends, and Monica didn’t like the idea of him joyriding with the possibility of getting into trouble. Their critical conversations had created a rift between them, which saddened Monica, but she didn’t know what else to do. Suddenly, in mid-conversation, it occurred to her she could use the practice she’s learned at work for shifting the tone and direction of a conversation. When Aiden started to reiterate the argument, Monica held up her hand, paused and said, “I really do understand why you want the car, and I hope you understand why I’m worried for your safety and well-being. So, how can we have a more productive conversation? How can we come to some agreement that allows you to get the car and me to feel comfortable that you’ll make good decisions, even if your friends are pressuring you?”

Aiden was stopped in his tracks. This time it was his turn to pause, and then they began a brand new conversation that promised to be worthwhile . . . and it was. Monica’s question allowed Aiden to let his mom know he did understand. He shared that sometimes he was glad he hadn’t been allowed to have the car because of where his friends ended up. But other times, he’d missed out on experiences he wanted to have and at those times, he felt she was being over protective. Upon hearing that, she realized she hadn’t even considered that part of the stalemate might be her own refusal to let go. They eventually arrived at an agreement to start small and keep expanding car privileges as trust and confidence grew between them.

Monica shifted the conversation out of critical debate and into a conversation worth having by reframing the situation and asking a generative question. This simple action shifted the tone and direction of the conversation. It allowed both of them to step back, reflect for a moment, and be more open and honest, and this shifted the outcome of their interaction.  [To read more stories like this, order Conversations Worth Having today.]

This is one of the most valuable practices you can develop for building strong relationships, expanding the potential of a group, surfacing possibilities in the face of challenges, and rapidly moving towards desired goals.

Generative questions often arise naturally when we frame a conversation around what we want but don’t currently have. For example, “I don’t have the money to buy a new car” to “I do have the money to buy a new car.” It’s as if the second statement primes our question generator automatically:

  • “Where did the money come from?”
  • “What did I do to earn, find, or save it?”
  • “What miracle might occur to support that?”
  • “I wonder how I could ask for a raise, it’s been six years, and they tell me I’m a real asset.” What if I frame it as an adjustment in pay?
  • “What if I offered a workshop and had just enough people coming to pay for the car?”

Take the opportunity now to try this little miracle maker with your own problems or “don’t wants”.  Flip it, and then let the generative questions flow. Let your curiosity and imagination help you turn the flip into your future reality.  Download the Executive Summary for an overview of the practices and principles.

And please let us know what happens for you! Your story will inspire others. Who knows, perhaps we can create a movement that will help us generate a world that is working for all of us.

Be a Stealth Conversationalist: Flipping Negativity to Positivity

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Stuck in negative conversations makes it all but impossible to see possibilities, to see clearly all the options you might have. Positive framing is about “righting” your conversation—flipping to address what you want. Intentionally shaping a conversation to focus on a desirable outcome and to energize engagement to produce positive results is like coming up for air or breathing life into the dialogue. A positive frame draws people in and inspires curiosity, imagination, and interest. This should not be mistaken for focusing only on the positive. Quite the contrary, this is about dealing with even the toughest issues in a way that motivates everyone to find creative solutions and take action. We offer a tool, Flipping, to help you take any problem or challenge and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame, allowing you to work towards solutions by engaging in conversations worth having.  The three steps are:

  1. Name It. What is the problem, complaint, or the thing you don’t want?
  2. Flip It. What is the positive opposite, the thing you do want?
  3. Frame It. What is the positive impact if the flip is true; what is the desired outcome?

Here’s an example taken from our book Conversations Worth Having of how positive framing can turn a potentially critical or destructive conversation into a conversation worth having! Mark, a mid-level manager in a Fortune 100 company, was preparing for a tough conversation with an employee who was very good at her job. There was one major problem. She was routinely late for their weekly meeting and sometimes missed deadlines. The practice of positive framing has allowed Mark to maintain good relational dynamics with his employees while resolving issues that are impacting overall team performance. The result is a department that has a strong sense of well-being and a team that is flourishing. Mark was in no way going to skirt the lateness issue; he needed to address it before it caused harm to the team and the department’s stellar record.  He thought through the flipping process to shift his original depreciative frame to an appreciative frame. He took the time to get very clear on the impact Melissa was having and what the outcome of her being on time would be for the department. His process went something like this:

  1. What is the problem? Melissa is routinely late and misses deadlines.
  2. What is the positive opposite of the problem? Melissa is routinely on time and meets deadlines.
  3. What would be the impact if Melissa was on time; what is the desired outcome? The team has a strong sense of cohesion: performance improves, trust, mutual respect, and collaboration are solid. All of these help us sustain excellence.

For Mark, reframing expanded his awareness and gave him the broader context for why it was important for team members to be on time. It also caused him to wonder if there were other things that could be done to build cohesion, and how he could better contribute to that. Were there things he might have done to set the stage for success and by not doing them, set Melissa up for failure?  That influenced his state of mind and openness when Melissa arrived for their meeting.

Mark started the conversation by saying, “Melissa, I want to ensure we have a strong team grounded in trust, responsiveness, mutual respect, and cohesion because I think it will allow us to be remarkably successful together. What do you think?” Melissa replied with some hesitation as she wasn’t sure where this was going, “I agree; I hope I am contributing to that.”

Mark responded, “I hope I’m doing all I can to contribute to that as well, but I’m not so sure I am. I’m glad you and I are on the same page with this. You do excellent work, and your input is very important to our team. You certainly are contributing to our success. I am noticing something that I’d like to address, and I need your help. I’m sensing that people are getting frustrated in meetings when you’re not there or when something isn’t turned in on time. It means they can’t move forward because you have important information to share. You are a valued member of this team. I’m afraid that their frustration will build over time and impact the team’s trust and cohesion. Do you have some ideas about how we can make sure we stay a strong team? Is there something I need to be doing that would make that possible?”

Melissa felt embarrassed, but it seemed Mark was open to her input. She shared, “The meetings I’m late for are scheduled at 8 AM on Wednesdays, and I have a very difficult time getting here on time on that day. That’s the only day I drop my son, Connor, at daycare. All other days my husband takes him, but he can’t on Wednesdays. If we could schedule our standing meeting for 8:30 or 9 AM or for any other day, I can assure you I’ll be on time.”

Mark looked shocked, “Is that all it will take? Surely, we can find another time. We’ll reschedule at our next meeting.” He realized he’d never asked people about the timing of the meeting. “And about deadlines,” added Melissa, “I hate it when I miss deadlines too; that’s not the kind of reputation I want to be known for. I’ll admit sometimes I’m just late, and I need to work on being timely. However, there are times when members of the team set deadlines without understanding what it will take to meet those deadlines. I should probably speak up when I know it’s not likely I can meet that deadline, but I feel like I’ll be letting the team down if I don’t try.”

Recognizing that his own leadership played a role in this dynamic he replied, “I want you to know, that each of us own a piece of the responsibility here. I need to take some ownership for not involving employees in decisions about meetings, and the team needs to make sure that whenever deadlines are set, everyone impacted by those deadlines is in on the conversation. I’ll take responsibility for addressing this at our next meeting. For your part, Melissa, in the future, please speak up if you think a deadline is unrealistic, even if it’s set, and you’re not there at the time. Doing that actually makes you a better team player. We can either change the deadline or the team can help brainstorm how they might support you in meeting that deadline. Will that work for you?”

You can readily see how intentionally creating a positive frame changes the tone and direction a conversation takes. We can all do this, with any conversation we are having. It simply means taking a few extra minutes to flip our own thinking and perspective so we can engage in ways that move us towards desired and beneficial outcomes.

Think about times you intentionally framed or reframed a conversation in order to invite real engagement and connection in order to resolve tough issues.  We’d love to hear what you did and what the outcome was. When you shared, even seemingly simple interactions, you’ll help all of us see how easy it is to move together toward that which we all want!

2 Simple Practices to Stop Giving Negative People and Media Power in Your Life

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If you’re like us, you are tired of the negativity and divisiveness that is being fueled by social media, press, comedians, talk show hosts, TV entertainment, and perhaps even in your work environments. It has zapped the life out of many of us and left people feeling helpless to change things for the better. When hope, meaning, and possibility leave our conversations, it has serious ramifications. We don’t have to give into the dominant national voice, however, or to the anger and resistance being fostered.

We can turn our conversations around. When faced with negativity, we can ask the kinds of questions that reshape the conversation. For example, if a Facebook post shows another brutal act of violence in the country, we might ask, “What’s my own community doing to curtail this kind of violence?” We might be surprised to discover that community conversations between police and people of color are being held and new policies being explored. When a friend shares frustration that nothing is being done at the national level to curtail the rise of CO2 and pollution, we can suggest, “There are companies and communities that are doing so on their own. In fact, there are some phenomenal efforts being made that are not getting any press.” We can back that up by looking for good news stories online, in the news, and in our own local communities. The Huffington Post lists 15 sources for good news stories. Check them out and be prepared to flip negative conversations with information from alternative and factual sources. Then, spur the conversation forward with generative questions, “Do you think we could begin a program like that here?” “What do you think it took to get started?” “What might happen if every community started doing that?”

We can reinvigorate our communities and organizations by fostering conversations that actually generate meaningful opportunities, foster real connection and relationship, and stimulate possibilities for the kind of world we want to live in. If we can talk about it, we can begin to envision it, and if we can envision it, we can create it!  If you doubt this, take a look at the amazing things that are happening in communities all across the country, fueled by people who are framing their conversations around positive opportunities and asking generative questions that help them innovate their way into a more positive future.  These two simple practices are all you need:  positive framing and generative questions. In our new book, Conversations Worth Having, we share lots of stories to show you how! Be sure to read Be a Stealth Conversationalist and You Can’t Know It All for more.

How are you transforming your conversations to inspire meaningful engagement and action? Please share your stories and inspire others to take back their power to live a healthy and meaningful life!