How to foster a conversation that’s worth having
I love to steer such playful conversations where my child expands her awareness, strengths and curiosity, and where I also become curious myself. As the authors of the book Conversations Worth Having affirm, the one tool that everyone has at their disposal with the potential to have a strong positive impact is conversations. Conversations are a crucial part of everything that we do. What does a good conversation look like in an organisation and what is needed to make it happen?
Two simple practices
We all have experiences of meaningless interactions where energy fades away. How often are conversations actually worth having? Good conversations are those that ‘increase connectivity, in which new ideas emerge, that contribute to the development of what is important for the organisation and that enable people to experience a sense of ownership’ (cited in Appreciative Inquiry as a Daily Leadership Practice, 2020). The authors Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres identify two simple practices that are helpful to engage in conversations that are worth having. I will illustrate the first one with an example of my own.
Make use of generative questions
In a recent team meeting at my workplace, the chair started rather differently than we usually do. “What makes it important for you to be here?” she asked. Her question generated focus among those attending the meeting. Personally, I felt that there were meaningful take-aways for all in that meeting, having listened to my colleagues’ answers.
This is what Stavros and Torres call a generative question. It increases connectivity and makes room for new knowledge, creativity and innovation. The authors state that such questions:
- make room for diverse and different perspectives. How do you see it?
- prompt new information and knowledge. How did they manage this process at your previous place of work?
- stimulate creativity and innovation. What might be possible if we ...?
- Positive framing
The second practice that the authors present is positive framing: intentionally shaping a conversation to focus on a desirable outcome and energise engagement to produce positive results. A positive frame draws people in and inspires curiosity, imagination, and interest. It helps when dealing with the toughest issues in a way that motivates everyone to find creative solutions and take action. The authors offer the technique of flipping to take any problem and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame that enables working towards solutions by engaging in conversations that are worth having. The three steps are:
- Name it. What is the problem, complaint, or the thing that you don’t want?
- Flip it. What is the positive opposite, the thing that you do want?
- Frame it. What if the positive impact of the flip is true? What is the desired outcome?
Change happens one conversation at a time
The two practices described in this blog stem from appreciative inquiry (AI), one of the most widely-used approaches for fostering positive change. AI is about bringing out the best in people, organisations, and communities by inquiring into strengths, possibilities and successes. AI is grounded in the notion that we create each moment and ultimately our social systems through conversation and shared meaning-making. Change happens one conversation at a time.
Appreciative Inquiry is the underlying philosophy of our Organisational Development and Change course. Early in the online part of the course, participants get the opportunity to practice with the use of generative questions. They invite a colleague to take part in a conversation on an ambition for change that they are working on.
“Through the conversation, I found out that we might already have more innovation potential and track record than we tend to say and think we have. I liked diving into this conversation with a very intentional hat on, a set of questions to explore potential for something.”
Gerinke Fountain, participant in 2019
The experience of practising with generative questions give participants a jump start, as Gerinke Fountain highlights when she reflected on her experience during the online learning weeks.
Are you curious to learn more about conversations that are worth having? Join the Organisational Development & Change Course where you learn to work with AI to steer meaningful change in your organisation or partner organisation. Alternatively, get in touch with Marjolein Veldman, writer of this blog, for more information on organisational development.