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.

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.

Perfectly Imperfect

Imagine if this world were a different place.

If life were a garden and we could just pluck or pick whatever we wanted rather than trying every bit to survive life’s impositions… if everything could be controlled by a magical wand and we were the rulers of our world… if nothing in this universe could affect us and we could monitor our psyches… if every family were a happy family, every child a genius, everyone could find true love,  all marriages were successful, there were no failures and fights, every businessman made profits, and everyone always enjoyed good health… ❤ ❤ ❤

It, indeed, would have been very different to be a part of such a hunky-dory world.
🙂 🙂 🙂

However… 🤔

This world would have deprived us of some silly things.

Yes!
I mean stupid things like the anxiety before the declaration of result and elation on an achievement, insignificant things like listening to the complications in our friend’s love stories and lending the worst possible advice, petty things like scratching our heads for solving a problem and cursing the geek in class who does it, the pain of rising item prices in canteen and sadistic pleasure on posting controversial tweets. 💜💜💜
Thrill, excitement, dreams, adventure, challenges, dilemmas, chaos, spontaneity would be nowhere in the picture. Wouldn’t life be pretty monotonous in this world!

Let’s think of it like this…

Life is a game and there is nothing to lose because whether we win or not, we can have our share of fun.  We win: its fine; we don’t: the game is really interesting. 😎
If only we detach ourselves from our life for a while and be a spectator to it, we shall realise how each moment in life adds meaning to it. ✨ Time stands witness to the fact that nobody in this world has been happy and successful throughout their life. There have been people who have lived without regrets and complaints; and there lies the essence of life. 💫

All these random thoughts indicate that this world could not have been better. Whatever situations, circumstances or conditions we are put into, we just need to be ourselves and ready to experience the most out of it. 

“To love life is to live life” 🤟🏻

Staring at the roof

Feeling confident right after something good happened to you and feeling low after a bad incident is not very uncommon, I suppose.

Let’s think about it.

Feeling confident, effectively, is a situation wherein your brain imagines situations of positive/desired outcomes of your actions. Why does it happen so strongly after a victory?

One way I think about it is:
Our brain tries to predict the outcome of our actions. There has to be a basis for the prediction. Else, all the possible outcomes would be equally likely. So it uses our past experiences and observations. The past experiences are stored in our memory. The more recent an incident, the higher is its weightage in the prediction. Right after an incident of undesired outcome, the most recent incident ‘biases’ the prediction towards highly undesirable outputs and thus the ‘low’ feeling.
Thinking about a situation where one ‘succeeded’ brings a sense of confidence and thus ‘positive thoughts’ give us strength.

If we think about it, the universe hasn’t changed the way it functions because of one desirable/undesirable incident that happened to a person. So feeling low is just an outcome of relying on a faulty predictive mechanism and can thus be revoked by changing the input.

Apple falling on the ground? Gravity.
Levitating/floating apple? MAGIC!!??

The brain has always seen the objects being ‘pulled’ by the Earth. If the science behind it can be manipulated in a way to force the object to move in the opposite direction, the brain sees something that contradicts its past observations.

BAM…!!!! You have just been tricked.