When you think of conversations worth having, think engagement, interweaving, co-creation, inspiration, respect, illumination, emergence, enriched relationships, trust, empathy, and bringing out the best: think legacy.
We live in worlds our conversations create.
Moreover, leadership is a tapestry of both failed and successful conversations that weave the fine threads of our cultures and relationships, budget alignments, customer communities, innovation trajectories, and best places to work into ethical environments where people can thrive and enable their individual and collective greatness to emerge.
On the reverse side of the tapestry, we've also experienced conversations that have caused irreparable damage—destructive conversations. Consider marriages and partnerships where people wish they could replay history and avoid that one unfortunate and explosive conversation that caused a rupture. Consider another life-depleting form of conversation: the boss who begins every meeting by treating the world or the organization as "the-problem-to-be-solved"; where every agenda item is about threats to the business, failure rates, anger about missteps; and where the main life-depleting atmosphere left in the aftermath is fearful and toxic, some combination of disappointment and distance. And, with all of this at stake—each conversation part of a legacy—recall your schooling. Did you ever take a course on conversations? Not just any kind of conversation, but life-giving ones that serve to open your world to new possibilities, elevate greatness, and build bonds of mutual regard and positive power, not "power over" but "power 'to'."
This book, then, represents a breakthrough in the combined fields of Appreciative Inquiry and Peter Drucker-like strengths-based management, positive psychology, and design thinking. What you hold in your hands is the course you've likely never encountered in only one book but always wanted. Conversations Worth Having can change your life at work, certainly. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the difference it can make in creating precious, growth-promoting moments and relationships with significant others, family members, partnerships, and community.
Why my excitement? After all, a handful of books out there today describe courageous conversations, confrontational meetings, conflict resolution, and even "ferocious conversations." And while they, too, show how our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time, I believe this is the first book of its kind to take Appreciative Inquiry's profound promise of positive leadership into legacy-creating conversations. Imagine taking the innovation-inspired tools of design thinking, the strengths-based leadership philosophy of Peter Drucker, the science of positive psychology, and the generative power of Appreciative Inquiry for bringing out the best in people and organizations—and then making all of these accessible as the operating system, even the DNA code, inside every conversation worth having.
The possibility that every conversation can start with a positive frame and end in an even more positive way is the central idea of Conversations Worth Having. In pursuing this radical idea, the authors take us into the principles of AI, now being applied at places such as Apple, Johnson & Johnson, the US Navy, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Vitamix, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and even the United Nations.
For example, instead of the metaphor that "the-world-is-a-problem-to-be- solved"—which almost automatically triggers a deficit-analytic search into breakdowns, gaps, and root causes of failure and places most of our attention on yesterday—we might consider instead an assumption that organizations are living systems, alive, embedded in "universes of strengths." The most vital conversations, this book's authors have discovered, begin in a wide-angle, valuing way—searching the appreciable world, which is always larger than our normal appreciative capacity, one where the starting assumption is this:
It is not only that we live in a universe of strengths and unlimited human imaginations, but surrounding every change situation we are part of—whether internal to the system or external to the system—there exists the strength combinations and innovation potentials, including consciousness shifts, greater than any organizational challenge or opportunity we will ever face.
Complexity science describes the concept of "sensitive dependence on initial conditions," which can turn tiny snowballs into mountains of avalanches. We see many of those same dynamics in conversations, right from the fateful moment when they are first framed. Small beginnings can have huge consequences, especially in human systems, which often become what those in the system ask questions about most frequently, authentically, systematically, creatively, and rigorously.
So, Conversations Worth Having is not at all about turning a blind eye to anything. Instead, it is about something quite artistic, ever so subtle, seeing beyond the problem and inviting a different kind of inquiry or search that creates an empowering environment, one that has a high-strengths density and a prospective, future-forming power. You will witness this different kind of inquiry in the first two stories the authors share in chapter 1, about a large teaching hospital and a struggling bank.
***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****
List of Stories
List of Tables
List of Figures
Introduction by David L. Cooperrider
1. Shifting Conversations
2. What Kind of Conversations Are You Having?
3. Who's Driving? Tune In
4. Two Simple Appreciative Practices
5. What's Fueling Your Conversations?
6. Scaling Up Great Conversations
7. It's Not Magic, It's Science!
8. Any Time, Any Place, Any Situation
Conversations Worth Having Discussion Guide: Generative Questions for Self and Teams