Shaping the culture through Appreciative Conversations

Written by Jayan Warrier Posted On Wednesday, 17 December 2014 09:47

The word ‘appreciative’ means to increase in value - it could be economically or socially. In connection with organisations, it means to take time to recognise the best in people and the environment, celebrate what is working well. Specifically it points to affirming the strengths, success and the potential in the people and the human system. This process of appreciation brings out to the forefront, the wealth of factors that give life - health, vitality and excellence - to these living systems. in short, appreciative actions are those in the direction of increasing the potential - to be the best that we could ever be!

Conversations

Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.

Mark Twain

It seems Mark Twain could foresee the scarcity of conversations in our times, in spite of the plethora of communication channels our new world has access to. A conversation is not talking or listening, or writing or chatting. It is not listening or debating or asking or answering or telling.

The word ‘converse’, according to some dictionary sources, was originally a verb meaning “to move about, live or dwell” when it first came into usage. The original meaning ‘living with’ has now been downsized to ‘talking to’. Remember Nietzsche, “When marrying, one should ask oneself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this woman into your old age?”

Appreciative Conversations

Multitasking, overworking and speeding across the overcrowded information highway is costing us our health, vitality, connections with the humanity and the ability to even dream big. The only way out, would be to take the first step - recommitting to spending time in Appreciative Conversations. The help us pause, reflect, celebrate and create a spiral of positive energy, that move us into a space of clarity, choice and courage to act. They open our minds to possibilities and encourage us to collaborate in search of mutually rewarding solutions.

This habit of engaging in appreciative conversations is transformational in nature, if developed by an individual, team or an organisation. The practice will lead to shift in perspectives, increase in confidence, broadening of mental capacities, deeper relationships and a step towards shaping a collective future.

What makes an Appreciative Conversation

Some of the elements in an appreciative conversation, from an observer perspective are:

  1. Positively powerful questions asked from the space of genuine curiosity
  2. Active Listening and Active Support in bring out the best in the other person
  3. Questions chosen to uncover strengths, values and examples of peak experiences
  4. An inquiry into the ideal future, in as much detail as possible
  5. Questions that uncover principles of success and images of success
  6. Genuine interest in sustainable action steps, plan for celebration and building support mechanisms
  7. Feedback on what was good about the conversation
  8. An appreciation of ideas shared and more ideas to create even better results
  9. Acknowledging the positive emotions, high energy and connectedness
  10. Moments of reflection, dreaming, learning and action planning

Below is the example of an appreciative conversation between two people.

Appreciative Conversation begins with one asking the other, a positive question to uncover values, strengths, experiences of flow in the recent past and visions of an ideal future. The conversation can happen in pairs, small groups or in a large group, though paired conversations are the best. The pairs may be intentional about uncovering strengths or might have been instructed to interview each other in a given time, without really knowing the purpose of the interaction. The beauty of these conversations is that it energises both the interviewer and the interviewee alike. It might have an awkward start, but it gets better every minute until both of them experience a connection, through genuine inquiry, active listening and authentic sharing. It is best if the pair is given some basic skills in active listening, asking effective follow up questions and making notes.

Applications

Where do we practice such conversations? There are many opportunities at workplaces including staff meetings, project debriefs, performance appraisals, coaching sessions, performance management, learning sessions, orientations, candidate selection interviews and many more. Not all conversations follow the same structure or format, but the spirit of valuing the strengths and dreams, by surfacing the narratives about peak experiences will be common.

Here are some specific examples:
  1. A staff meeting begins with a question from the chair of the meeting: One by one, I want you to share with us: what is one thing that you achieved since we met and what impact did your accomplishment have?
  2. In a project review meeting, the project manager asks: What do you value most working in this project team? What would you like to have more of?
  3. In a one on one interview of a new candidate, the interviewer asks: Please share with me a situation from the past, where you demonstrated a collaborative mindset. What happened? How was the outcome?
  4. In a feedback session, the team leader asks: Having heard the ideas, please share with us what did you like about these? What would you offer to make these even better?
  5. In an exit interview, the HR executive asks: While you worked in this organisation, what did you value most? When did you enjoy your work?

Building the working cultures of the future

No single leader can solve complex workplace and business issues. There is no one prescribed way to motivate, inspire, and engage employees. There is no reason to believe that the future is predictable. There is no magic bullet to engage the generation Y. There is no step by step process to manage cultural differences. There is no end to any analysis, if it is about faults, gaps, imperfections and scarcities. Doing more hardly gives us the capacity to sustain doing.

We might consider alternative ways to work. We need to begin with the inquiry. To build a culture of collaboration, innovation, fulfilment, commitment to a better world, ownership, engagement, empowerment, inclusiveness, mindfulness, learning, and DREAMing big, the first step is to pause and inquire into what gives life to our peers, our teams, and our organisations. What works? What do we want more of? What do we value collectively? Once the conversations kick in, the rest will unfold! Remember to converse is to live, in fact THRIVE!

References
Power of Appreciative Inquiry: Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten Bloom
Leading with Questions: Dr. Michael Marquardt
Encyclopaedia of Positive Questions: Diana Whitney, Amanda-Trosten-Bloom, David Cooperrider, Brian S Kaplin
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