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)

Lock – Unlock

The Sun is about to rise. It is still dark and from my balcony, I can see the highway lit up beautifully. I can see the plant at a distance glowing in the silver light and chimney throwing up the golden flame. The interplay of lights here and there is making the sea water, in front, dance intermittently. I can see the birds flying and chirping happily as if singing in excitement for the Sun to rise. The sky is changing colours so beautifully making chariots of Gods come alive and disappear one after the other in different formations. One innocent redness is now visible just a little above the hill in the middle of the sea. The red ball is now climbing up the hill and the Sun rays have started their play on the sea surface. Here comes a pigeon and another one in the balcony adjacent to mine. The pigeon above says something to the pigeon sitting a little below and they keep communicating in total oblivion to everything around. They fly away a little later to join their other friends flying happily over the sea waters. I chant the Gayatri mantra welcoming the rise of the morning Sun and close my eyes to just listen to the chirping around . Silence has its own beauty and I don’t know how many minutes elapsed in that peaceful blissful silence. In silence, I hear the gentle sound of the church bell nearby announcing the beginning of the new day.

This all has been around every day. How come it just comes alive when everything, everyone is locked up? What is this new life amidst the dance of terrible fear around – the fear of losing it all? What is this emerging when everything else seems to have been denied, taken away?

I sit there quietly reflecting. It’s a lockdown. Lockdown of tea stalls, lockdown of Vada pav shops, lockdown of that small general store having all one needs. So, all this gets locked down. So does the income for these people and many more giving them daily supplies. How are they managing things for themselves and their dear ones? How are the emergencies being handled by them? It’s a lockdown of our office. How does the show go on? What’s the new norm of working, connecting and for how long? What’s happening in other organisations?

A part of me is still in the deep silence of early morning and all of a sudden, I again find myself getting consumed by this silence within and the play of nature outside – both mingling seamlessly.

As I get up to get ready to work from home and be nicely available to the office colleagues for the whole day, I am still wondering why it took a human crisis for the gifts of nature to unfold. I am still wondering while taking shower why it took a lockdown for our inner beauty and peace to open up to ourselves. I am still wondering while slowly eating my breakfast if it is possible for us to slow down; appreciate the beauty around and within; and make the focused difference to the world as well in harmony. The laptop beeps up with the first teams call for the day – Hello Mohit! Good morning. So, today ……😀😀😀


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mr. Mohit Kumar, Joint President – HR (Hindalco Industries Ltd.) is a Human Capital Strategist with 26 years experience in different facets of Human Resource Management in strongly HR oriented organisations like Hindalco Industries Ltd & Idea Cellular Ltd (Aditya Birla Group), Hewlett Packard, ITC INFOTECH INDIA Ltd (ITC group), SRF Ltd, DSS Mobile Communications Ltd and BCH (Eaton corporation).

He is a passionate thought leader, business enabler, employee champion; and is cross culturally adept having worked in different parts of India and with business and HR teams from over 12 countries. He is actively involved in leadership coaching and development, internal development assessment centers, talent & capability pipeline, sensitivity development and various other quality HR interventions towards creating a learning and winning organization.

Fight against no one

We become what we can’t fight.

We want to stay sane. Why? Don’t know. But we have to. There are things, in numbers quite large, we don’t like. We want them to not happen. We want them to end. We don’t fight them. Sometimes we “can’t” fight them. Why fight a battle that we will lose after we appear to win?

We are cowards. We are scared to risk what we may end up losing after we win. It kills us from inside. We fight against our own selves. This is a battle we choose over the one we can’t afford to lose, or win.

We are losers. We use our fingers, not our arms to convey what we want. We just can’t fight back.

“What the hell do I do?”, asked a voice inside me, one day.

“Why do you have to fight it? It is the way it is. Stop troubling yourself over it. You are not responsible for everything wrong that’s happening around you.”, came a reply in a slightly different voice.

When there is a conflict inside, one of the sides is assigned to the blood pumping organ and the other to the manager of organs. I couldn’t identify which one was which.

The following day, I argued against the notion of chasing dreams.