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)

I want to be…

Reserved, ever-so-calm and meticulous Manoj is in accounts. Manoj is 38, his wife is a school teacher and his only son who is in 6th standard wins almost every olympiad.

On Monday, Manoj was attending a training session, with his team, where the trainer asked all the participants to introduce themselves and share something unique about them. Manoj introduced himself rather shyly. The trainer probed him to share something unique too.

Manoj smiled. With a twinkle in his eye, said “I want to be a professional music composer.”

Suddenly, the room burst into laughter.
A voice in the room said, “Manoj, you are going to be our next Finance head.”
Another one said, “Building castles in the air.”
Yet another one said, “It’s nothing but weekend hangover.”

Manoj turned red with embarrassment. He felt as if he had stripped off in front of so many people. He hardly spoke that day, everyone had fun at his expense the whole day.

The night was getting even more difficult to get through.
“Why did I even speak up?”
“Really stupid of me to have frivolous aspirations.”
“How am I going to face people tomorrow!”
His own thoughts were the demons in the room, not letting him sleep.

The next day wasn’t a usual one. There were some critical audits scheduled, so everyone was on their toes. Manoj got into high gear and before he knew it, the day was over. There was something unavoidable in the evening, a planned team celebration with the Head of Finance. Manoj got an award this year, and that was one of the reasons for this celebration. Everyone got into their cars and moved to the party venue.

As Manoj entered the venue, one of his colleagues said,
“Look who is here. The next big musician.”
Others started laughing.

Manoj, by now, knew that this wasn’t going to be easy. He just smiled. The party began, and all those who got awarded were asked to say something.
Manoj got to the stage when it was his turn.

“A very good evening everyone.” He began.
“This recognition means a lot to me.
I always wanted to qualify CA and be a great accountant.
This recognition marks the accomplishment of my dreams.
The dreams that I had when I was 15, the dreams that were never mocked at and never suppressed.

When we were younger, we were always asked what do you want to be when you grow up. Whether we said doctor, engineer or CA, we were always encouraged.
I didn’t know much about accounting when I decided to be a CA.
That didn’t matter.
Everyone knew I will learn with time.

Why don’t we ask each other the same question now?
What do you want be after 10 years!
We are more self-aware and worldly wise now.
We can make amazing choices that inspire us, and can motivate us everyday.
We have stopped dreaming and we don’t let people around us dream too.
Isn’t that just sad?
In 10 years’ frame, we can be anything we want to be.
We can try, fail, learn and grow.
My humble plea to everyone here is to never stop dreaming.
It’s the best thing in the world.
A dream is the best gift that you can give to yourself.
So, yes… I want to be a professional Music Composer in 10 years.
I will start working on it today, with what I am doing.
And however far it may seem, I will take a step a day and I am sure I will reach there.”

The room burst into claps.