Leveraging the “Power of Conversations” in the times of COVID Crisis

Change begins with a single conversation.

Conversations are the lifeline to how we get things done in most settings. If you learn to have conversations that are appreciative and inquiry-based, it will strengthen relationships; move you towards positive outcomes in your families, teams, and organization; and promote situations where you can flourish! 

For the last 25 years, I have been studying and practicing the impact of asking questions using AI (no – it’s not artificial intelligence). The AI I am referring to, is Appreciative Inquiry. Something that is easily learnt and powerful when mastered. The power of AI comes from learning to ask questions (inquiry) that add value to others (appreciative), deepen understanding, make room for other perspectives, and inspire new knowledge. The heart of AI is asking life-giving questions. AI is about discovering what gives life to the system, and purposefully looks for what is true, good and possible.

Currently, in my organization, I am serving on a Safety Committee to make recommendations on how to safely re-open a university campus that was closed abruptly as a result of Covid-19. As one would expect, there is tremendous worry, anxiety and emotions surrounding this discussion. How do we re-open? How do we keep our campus community safe? When does the staff report back to work? These are some of the many questions that the committee is struggling to answer. We are learning that there are many concerns and fears among employees about coming back to work.

Instead of making assumptions about how employees feel, the committee is having conversations with all the employees across the 16 departments (via Zoom) to make space to hear:
– What are their concerns?
– What are their ideas to re-open the campus carefully, responsibly and safely?

The department that I work for will be hosting two Town Hall Meetings (again virtually) with our students to learn:
– What worked when we suddenly had to go online?
– What can we do better?
– What are their concerns and wishes for the fall semester?


We also have critical infrastructure (essential) employees working on-campus and have asked:
– What are some of the best safety measures they are using?
– What is working well?
– What do they need more of?

AI questions are intentionally designed to put the employees in a ‘connect’ mindset with the goal of understanding why, when and how might we begin to bring employees back; and re-designing how their departments work with each other and the students who may (or may not) be coming back this fall. We do not know what the fall will bring, but we are already in conversation about what worked well, what is working, and what is possible.

Are your conversations providing clarity, deepening understanding, generating possibilities, strengthening relationships and providing alternatives to create a pathway forward?

To learn more about Appreciative Inquiry visit AI Commons:
https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/
The “AI Commons” is a place for everyone with an interest in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and positive change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Jacqueline (Jackie) M. Stavros’ passion is working with others to create meaningful results for positive change. She is a professor in the College of Business and Information Technology at Lawrence Technological University. She has co-authored 7 books, over 50 articles and book chapters related to Appreciative Inquiry and SOAR.

Two recent books are:
Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement (www.ConversationsWorthHaving.today), and
Thin Book of SOAR: Creating Strategy that Inspires Innovation and Engagement (soar-strategy.com).

She has worked in 25 countries using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to affect the lives of thousands of people and enabled hundreds of organizations improve capacity to thrive and increase performance. Her work has been featured in Forbes, SmartBrief, Detroit’s Live in the D, dbusiness Magazine, and leadership and training blogs and podcasts. She is a keynote speaker on positive approaches to leadership, strategy, and change. She earned a Doctor of Management in Capacity Building Using an Appreciative Approach: A Relational Process of Building Your Organization’s Future.
(Email: jstavros@ltu.edu)

10 Happiness Mantras for Moms… :)

That important meeting, a birthday party in neighbourhood and your friend’s engagement – all happening at the same time. You have to attend one and make up for another. Yes, it does get messy at times. Enjoy the beautiful mess. Choose to be happy. 

Here are 10 simple tips to be a Happy mom.

1. RELISH 5-MINUTE BREAKS 

When you are having your favourite juice, sipping your coffee or walking to the nearby store, just enjoy it. Disconnect from rest of the world and enjoy your me time.

Imagine sitting on your couch, looking outside the window and appreciating the beauty of nature with a glass of juice in your hand. Enjoy that juice and think neither about past nor future.

2. GO EASY ON YOURSELF 

There will always be some critics who do not approve of your parenting style. Let them be. You know what is best for you, your family and your baby. Ignore the criticism if it pulls you down and is not constructive. 

Every night before you sleep, think of ten great things that happened to you in the day. You will see the significant positives overpowering the insignificant negatives. 

“Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts. No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts.” ~Buddha 

3. BUILD YOUR INNER STRENGTH 

A 10-minute meditation ritual every morning or evening can work wonders for you. It will keep you centered, mindful and sane the rest of the day. There are many mobile Applications with guided meditation audios, relaxation music and sleep stories. Once you practice this for a few days, you will experience the super power it gives you.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment,  live in the breath.”  ~Amit Ray

4. DO WHAT YOU LIKE 

Create time to do things you really love to do – reading, listening to music or dancing. If it requires for you to seek help from others, do not hesitate. It does not make you selfish or less caring, it helps you destress. If you neglect yourself, it will make you irritable. 

If you need half an hour to have a conversation with your best friend, tell your family and slot time to speak to her without any disturbance. At times, we assume too much and do not communicate what we want. Ask and you shall be given. 

5. TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU WANT OTHERS TO TREAT YOU 

You want your employer, your family and your friends to understand you, appreciate you and trust you. Do you empathize with yourself enough? Believe in yourself, respect yourself and go easy on yourself. 

Our personality is a reflection of what we feel about ourselves and how we treat ourselves. When we take ourselves seriously, the world is bound to. Believe you are a Queen, treat yourself like a Queen and you will be treated like a Queen. 

6. LIVE YOUR LIFE TO THE FULLEST

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”  – Thích Nhất Hạnh 

Sometimes when we are too busy, we just keep thinking about completing the work. Do not look at your life as just series of jobs to be done. Enjoy everything that you do. Life is not the big achievements; it is the million little things. The time with mother nature, great interactions with good people, sharing and caring is all happening while we are chasing our big goals. Acknowledge and enjoy all of it. 

7. DO NOT GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS 

Most of us stop dreaming or give up on our dreams after becoming a mom. Once you start believing in your dreams again, you will find ways to give time, efforts and attention to this while still managing the other things well. You just have to believe in your dreams. 

“Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality.”  ~Robin S. Sharma 

8. STAY HEALTHY AND LOVE YOURSELF 

Eat healthy, stay healthy and stay fit. However, do not chase size zero. As long as you are healthy and are able to take care of yourself, your family and your work, you are beautiful. Love yourself for who you are and love your body. 

9. BE THE GIRL YOU ONCE WERE 

There are no rewards for being sane all the time. Sing out loud, dance in your living room and play crazy games. In fact, motherhood is all the more an opportunity to be a child again. 

The best thing about kids is that they are not inhibited. It takes immense energy to be self- conscious all the time. It is ok to let loose at times and just be yourself without the fear of judgement.

“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle 

10. HAVE FAITH- IN PEOPLE AND UNIVERSE 

Amidst all chaos and uncertainty, it is faith that keeps us going. Your faith can move mountains and your doubt can create them. It is faith in visible and invisible, known and unknown that keeps us strong. Have faith. Stay true to yourself, keep your loved ones by your side and stay strong. 

In pursuit of happiness, we need to just pause and be happy. Happiness will not come to us that one day; it’s experienced every day in little things like these. So, be happy and pass on the happiness to your child. After all, kids don’t need a perfect mom, they need a happy one. Wish you a calm, meaningful and cheerful life ahead. 

Defensive Pessimism vs Mindful Optimism?

In stressful times like these, many people adopt an inclination towards defensive pessimism: prepare for the worse and hope for the best. To my mind this is a losing strategy. Events are neither good nor bad. It is our thoughts that make them so.

Defensive pessimism keeps us on the lookout for the negative, and over interpreting events through a very dark lens. The problem is seek and ye shall find. Being inundated with negative thoughts keeps us stressed and feeling helpless— neither of which is good for our health and well being. To hope for the best may sound fine but actually on closer inspection it has a pessimistic outlook built into it that is absent from expecting the best. Hoping for something acknowledges that defeat is a real possibility. Expecting defeat through a series of social psychological processes too often creates defeat.

Mindful Optimism, on the other hand, is not burying one’s head in the sand with a certainty that all will be fine, but still helps us live fully moment by moment without stress. Uncertainty is not newly upon us. Everything has always been uncertain. It feels new because people tend to confuse the stability of their mindsets with the stability of the underlying phenomena. That is, all is and was always changing and not fully knowable but we may have felt we knew because we were oblivious to the inherent uncertainty.

We can worry or relax and things can turn out to be good or bad. If we worry and everything turns out fine, we’ve stressed ourselves unnecessarily and wasted precious time. If we worry and if turns out to be bad we’re no more prepared for it than if we didn’t worry. If we relax and it turns out bad we’ll be stronger to deal with it and if it all turns out to be fine we can continue behaving adaptively.

So what should we do if we want to adopt this more successful life strategy of Mindful Optimism, in the time of a pandemic?

Make a plan for yourself, such as frequent hand washing (which is always good) and engage in social distancing and then go back to living fully moment by moment with the implicit expectation that all will be fine.

About the Author

Ellen Langer


Dr. Ellen Langer, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and the first female professor to gain tenure in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. She is the author of eleven books and more than two hundred research articles written for general and academic readers on mindfulness for over 35 years. Her best selling books include Mindfulness; The Power of Mindful Learning; On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity; and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.

Dr. Langer has been described as the “mother of mindfulness” and is also the founder of The Langer Mindfulness Institute. Among other honors, she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Distinguished Scientist Awards, the World Congress Award, the NYU Alumni Achievement Award, and the Staats award for Unifying Psychology. Most recently she received the Liberty Science Genius Award.