I’m joined in today’s entertaining conversation by life and business partners, Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell. Co-authors of two books, Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education, this dynamic duo brings two decades of experience using this powerful approach to human system change to everything they do. Appreciative Inquiry seeks to increase in value what already exists and enquires into what more might be created for individuals and organizations. In short, it is all about stoking curiosity, connection, and belonging. We apply their A.L.I.V.E. framework (Appreciate, Love, Inquiry, Venture, Evolve) as a tool to help people cope during challenging times. For example, “How am I embracing what’s happening in the world right now – even the smallest thing?” So key to conversations happening all over the world right now, we explore how to use it to interrupt racism and promote allyship. Ask questions of ourselves, our teams, and others such as, “How do I/we intersect with privilege and difference in my/our own life?,” “How might we invite people to actively participate in these conversations?” and “How do we want to express our vision for inclusion?” Such questions serve to begin conversations that otherwise seem too daunting to start and welcome people to share stories and ideas in service of creating better futures.
Episode 60 Authentically A.L.I.V.E. in tough times with Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell
Shani Magosky: Is your team not performing well? Is morale low and turnover high? Are you falling further behind the competition? I’m here to help.
I’m your host, Shani, and this is The Leadershift Show where business strategy and culture finally meet and we make the long-awaited shift from rhetoric to results. I promise, I’m not your typical boring leadership consultant and I will help you get your shift together. Let’s do this.
Hello, Leadershifters and welcome back to another episode of The Leadershift Show with Shani. It is now 2021 and we are so thrilled to be back after a little bit of a hiatus. We had to move from Boulder back to Fort Lauderdale to take care of some family health business and we are raring to go.
Boy, do I have a treat for you today, not one, but two brilliant women who are here to talk about appreciative inquiry. Hold on to that if you don’t know what that is. We will obviously explain and take a deep dive.
Welcome to the show Joan McArthur-Blair and Jeanie Cockell. They are appreciative inquiry consultants and the authors of two books on the subject. One is called Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry and I cannot wait to dive into that one, just given the fact that we’re coming up on a year of COVID, hibernation, and the like. Their other book is called Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education, which for those of you who know me, higher education, all education is a real side passion of mine.
Actually, Jeanie and I were talking before the show that both of our mothers were English teachers. We share that passion for grammar and love that they’re bringing this into the classroom. Welcome to the show, ladies.
Joan McArthur-Blair: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Jeanie Cockell: Thank you, Shani. Joan has a degree in English, [chuckles] just to carry on that story, so people would care about English here. [chuckles]
Shani: What’s funny, folks, is they are joining us from Victoria, British Columbia, where it is cold, gray, and rainy. Of course, I am back in sunny beautiful Fort Lauderdale. I just love the contrast and the fact that we can get on a Zoom call and do this regardless of weather conditions. [chuckles]
Joan: Just to lead off that for a second. This is the thing in leadership. I’ve been in formal leadership for a lot of my life and it is that undertaking in contrast where one moment it’s dark [chuckles] and rainy and the next day, there’s a sunshine that allows you to do something that wasn’t there the day before. It is an amazing undertaking.
Shani: Yes. Well, let’s start with the basics. Appreciative inquiry, a concept known to folks who are in leadership development, learning, and development, but maybe not everyone is as familiar with it. Go ahead and do a little a little bit of teaching for the listeners here. What is appreciative inquiry?
Jeanie: Oh, let me start with that one. Appreciative inquiry is something that’s absolutely true to my heart. When I discovered it, just through other consultants and the facilitators at a conference, somebody said, “Have you heard about appreciative inquiry?” This is years ago. “No.” We’re still finding out that people haven’t heard about it. It’s basically those two words, “appreciative inquiry,” and the appreciative comes from valuing and looking at what you value, inquiring into inquiries, questioning, exploring, and researching.
Together is what do you appreciate? What do you value? Because by looking at it, you will get more of it. In other words, the notion of appreciate as a house appreciates some value. Well, what you’re looking at, if you’re looking at your strengths and what’s working well in your organization, that will increase. As you do it through research, examination, questions, conversations, and stories, that there’s a third one that Joan and I have actually added onto the notion of appreciate and that’s the notion of you also have to be fully aware.
To appreciate means to be fully aware. We’re finding that especially in the world now where we want to look at the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and so on. Sometimes, you have to actually start with what isn’t actually perfectly working in order to explore through an appreciative lens, through appreciative inquiry, but to acknowledge first the importance of advocating for change in our world where things are issues still. Then, look at how is it we explore what is working within that issue. How is it people are making changes?
That’s the appreciative inquiry part is to ask those question, look for the stories, get those stories spread around the organization or the team or the community, or the world. It’s a worldwide exploration through processes and ways of being in the world by continually doing that curiosity and appreciation.
Shani: Absolutely. I love that and because one of the things that I do is a lot of executive and leadership coaching. I’ll introduce this concept of appreciative inquiry as a lens from which to ask more questions because I’ll get this question all the time, “What’s the one thing I can do as a leader to be better? Don’t you have a hack? [chuckles] You work with tons of leaders. Isn’t there a secret sauce or a hack to being a better leader?” I’m like, “Well, okay. First of all, not really, but if I had to recommend [chuckles] one thing, it would be to talk less and listen more.” When we are talking, instead of just coming out spouting our knowledge, it’s asking more questions when we are opening that mouth of ours.
For a lot of people have to clarify we’re not asking questions as a way to put people on the defensive. They’re not questions designed to trick people or lead people to your own conclusion. They have to be open-ended non-leading questions and that’s when I’ll bring in this idea of coming from a place of just being purely curious and appreciating what you might hear and appreciating what you already know as opposed to jumping to conclusions, which is what most people do. [chuckles]
Joan: Well, I think it’s so powerful where you just touched on the idea that appreciative inquiry can be used in the smallest of ways, to ask a simple generative question as a leader to others, to think through the ways in which you open the possibility for somebody else to share their strength in the situation, the kinds of questions you ask, or it can be used for whole system change where you’re looking at big organizational and cultural change.
We’re talking for a minute before we started today. The idea of culture to be asked as somebody who works in an organization, what my ideas are, where we might go, what I’m hoping for is such a powerful generator of positive culture. In some ways, I would say a simple thing, but it’s not. It’s actually a practice of asking generative questions that create positive responses for people.
Shani: Yes. Let’s actually build on that and give some examples. Those were great examples of questions that you might ask an individual. How would this apply to greater organizational change? Either if you have an overview of the process that you use, incorporating appreciative inquiry, or even an example.
Joan: Jeanie and I do a lot of big strategic planning processes and that’s one of the classic places that large organizations can use this. For an example, we did a big project in the States with a university where they asked the entire internal university community, students and everybody who worked inside the university, and the community to come and tell stories of the university.
Then, out of those stories, they created theme ideas, and each of those themes was then parsed for ways the organization might design the future. It’s so powerful in that whole system change where everybody gets involved and so what happens in that process is it’s not about the strategic plan being written eight months later. As soon as people are asked about what are their ideas and what might we do as an organization. They’re already making those changes. So, there’s this incredible momentum and personal agency that takes place when you use it for big strategic planning projects like that. We do a lot of those with colleges and universities, mostly, but not-for-profits, and all kinds of organizations.
Shani: Oh, go ahead, Jeanie. [crosstalk]
Jeanie: I was just going to say we talked also about the notion of shift because this is leadership shift that we’re talking about, but it’s amazing in the room. I would like to work also with teams that are in trouble. [chuckles] They come because they need to change. They need to shift.
Joan: I know that none of your leaders are there have working with teams that won’t talk to each other, but this is Jeanie’s specialty.
Shani: And beyond. One of the things about using appreciative inquiry that I absolutely love is the shift that I see as people start to deeply listen to each other’s stories because one of the techniques that we use is we start with whatever the topic is. What is it you want? So, the team is often just being a highly effective team. You tell stories no matter how small of when you’ve had an experience in the team that has been, what was wonderful, and made it effective, and share that with another person, then share it with a small group.
You start to see people say, “Wow.” They see each other because they’ll see each other through the story and they then have to start to shift and say, “Well, wait a minute. They’re passionate about being this team just like I am and I thought they were just an annoying person,” [laughs] because they had different styles or whatever.
Through that storytelling and the inquiry of listening to each other deeply, it shifts that nature of belonging together and really come together and actually share the leadership. I mean that’s what a team is, it’s a group that works together. Then, she sees how they could because they can see each other.
Jeanie: It’s so funny that you just added that because I onboarded a new executive coaching client just this morning. One of the questions that I asked was to tell me about a peak experience where it doesn’t– and it never has to be professional. It can be personal, too, but in this case, it was a professional story, and it was earlier on in her career where– I can’t be too detailed because of confidentiality, but let’s just say she went above and beyond serving a client and the client’s family in a very difficult situation, did that because– that she viewed that as her job. That was her purpose. It wasn’t just to do the job but to serve the clients.
A couple of days later, the family came in with two dozen roses to thank her for what she had done. She was completely touched because, of course, she didn’t do it expecting to get roses or even thanks, because a lot of times, it’s somebody anonymous from the other side. She said, “Well, what’s the second dozen roses for?” Because the first one was for her.
The client said, “For your mother because she obviously raised a wonderful human being.” Hearing that story from her, well, of course, it made me appreciate who she is as a person and as a professional. Again, just got me thinking like these are the kinds of stories that we need to perpetuate and tell our coworkers and not be either too modest or think that they’re inappropriate. This is what connects us to each other.
Joan: This is something that I think is the core of David Cooperrider and others work when they started appreciative inquiry, is the connection to each other, that appreciative inquiry connects us in powerful ways, uplifts our strengths, connects us to the work that we want to do in the world, and give us the ability to carry that work forward.
The sense of connection in appreciative inquiry is so profound. Jeannie and I have this experience, too, where people tell incredibly powerful stories when asked that simple question, “Tell me a story of a time.” People tell these incredible stories of their lives and work.
Jeanie: One of the principles of appreciative inquiry is the wholeness principle. It’s not about a top-down, “Here’s the leader going to do this to the organization.” It’s about gathering the whole, or at least the representation of the whole, who then work together creating their future. It’s future-focused.
They start with the stories of what they already know that’s working well in the organization. They move towards actually dreaming, visioning, and creating images together. Everything’s done together collaboratively, so it’s very much of an inclusive belonging in this organization, “This is us,” to the design phase, which is a very typical phase of any strategic planning or future creation, visioning, whatever you want to call it.
In appreciative inquiry, that strap plan doesn’t just get written up by a few people and stick on a shelf or passed out maybe, [chuckles] It is actually something that has within it, some commitments of everybody who’s participated to be part of it and to carry it on. There’s an ongoing process of looking back and doing an appreciative inquiry as, “Where are we at? What’s worked with this plan? How could we tweak it now?”
It’s very alive. It’s very active in terms of how people engage with it. That, I think, is very powerful as to keep– Then, of course, it affects the institution in many ways, that people realize it’s not just about doing what they committed to, but it can be a way of just being in their department with each other and holding meetings together by starting with, “Well, let’s just share a brief story about what’s happened since the last time we met last month. Let’s go around the table.” It doesn’t take long and share a little story about the successes that have happened.
Joan: Right. I want to pause one second to address the listeners and challenge you. Do you have these elements in your strategic planning process? Because I see a lot of strategic plans that are built like this. “Well, let’s take last year’s strategic plan and update it.” [laughs] Well, that is probably not the most thorough approach that you could take. Are you involving other constituencies or are you just up there in the ivory tower, in the C-suite, creating the strategic plan without reaching out to people all across the organization to hear their voices and hear their stories, to build a future that is resonant for the entire organization, and not just for those at the top.
I just want to call that to your attention. It’s not too late. Every day is a new day to do a strategic plan. We’re a month in to 2021. If you’ve built a strategic plan, revisit it with the appreciative inquiry approach in mind.
Joan: One of the things I–
Shani: We’ve been alluding a little bit and I want to go there directly to the applications for appreciative inquiry in diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, such a big topic that, fingers crossed, may finally be having its day where more people are taking it seriously than just the groups advocating for it. [chuckles] Talk to us a little bit about why this is such an important element for DEI.
Joan: Well, I think that there’s so much intrinsically in appreciative inquiry that speaks to the notion of belonging, to be simply asked to be part of something is integral to change at the scale of the whole as [crosstalk] is. I think there’s particular things that appreciative inquiry brings to this work.
David Cooperrider and Ron Fry recently wrote an article based on a piece that David wrote for the preface to our book about Appreciative Inquiry in a Broken World. They, too, are really thinking about this idea of how in situations where there is huge hurt and huge harm and systemically built-in systems do we begin to unpack them. I think appreciative inquiry really brings itself to that work. The ways in which you sit down and begin to discuss topics like, “How might we, as a team, be inclusive of each other?” It’s a simple question.
Recognizing, at the same time, that there are moments within every team, within every organization where that has not existed. Every organization brings the systemic nature of the society in which they function inside their organization. This is the being fully aware part of appreciative in the appreciative inquiry, the recognition that the solution isn’t going to happen by four o’clock this afternoon, that this is the beginning of a conversation around huge and systemic kinds of issues. You’re dying to add something I can tell.
Jeanie: No. No. I’m just enjoying what you’re saying, Joan. It’s great. [laughs]
Joan: I think it has a special place because it’s built out of telling stories, “Tell a story of a time in your organization where you felt like you belonged.” Even more complex, given that there’s huge systemic issues at play inside and outside our organization, “Tell a story of a time where you felt like you belonged.”
You recognize that being fully aware of what it is and the systemic nature, and you seek to find places that can be different. It’s delicate and powerful work in appreciative inquiry, and I think there’s much to be gained by the simple telling and asking of stories and then beginning to create change.
Shani: I think this is a really good conversation for folks who want to be allies, for lack of a better word. They don’t think that they’re overtly, let’s say, racist or sexist or any other ist-ism. They’re not necessarily even aware of some of their own unconscious biases or an unconscious ism’s that might be in their behavior. They want to learn. They want to do better, but they don’t know how to approach the topic with people of color or women or whatever the other is.
I think this is a really– certainly not easy, [chuckles] but it’s a simple way for them to start practicing to have those conversations, to get the information, to be more informed and sensitive. “Tell me about a time when, so that they can start to educate themselves,” because that’s really what it’s going to take is people understanding what it feels like to live in the other person’s shoes by hearing those powerful examples.
Joan: Well, as you say, I think there’s an incredible moment for allyship. It’s such a fragile thing because it’s easy to take allyship to– yet a new version of oppression. It’s a really complicated territory. Yet, I think for leaders to step into that territory and both say powerfully to their organization, “Not on my watch.” This place I expect that everybody experiences respect. Now, tell me stories of how we’re already doing that and how we can enable more of it? Say, a simple question, it begins– It is, I think, a powerful place for leaders who seek to be allies to reside.
Shani: Yes. Let’s go over that again, just to make sure people got it. You know it is Black History Month. Certainly, a great time to continue to advocate for people of color and allyship, so let’s give people verbatim questions [chuckles] because sometimes, they need that in order to get started. Then, they feel more comfortable, because a lot of times it is opening their mouth and saying those first few words of the first sentence that’s hard for people.
Joan: I think to– like this thing about an executive, for example, to say to their team, “How might I express to the organization my expectation of inclusion? How might we begin to set simple kinds of expectations around belonging? How might we invite people to the conversation without asking the employees who self-identify as people of color or gay and lesbian to suddenly speak for everybody in the organization? How do we do this in a way that’s powerful?” Two really beginning questions.
I think the other thing that I often say this as I’m coaching is a journaling exercise. This is not a share exercise. This is a writing down, “Where is it that I intersect with these issues in powerful ways?” I use a simple powerful example of myself. Jeanie and I are life partners, business partners, co-authors. We live in a country of peace and privilege where we can be married in our country and not universally, but for the most part, not discriminated against for that.
Jeanie and I get to sit down the burden, if you want to call it that, bad word, sit down the notion of being a lesbian at times. We can appear in public and people go, “Oh, they’re interesting people.” My friends of color can never do that. I think to journal about this idea of how we intersect with privilege and difference for ourselves, and then begin to ask the questions, “How might I communicate to the organization, my desire to create a culture of belonging? How might we begin the conversation? Are there places inside the organization where teams, very diverse teams are flourishing? What is enabling those teams to flourish?” Then, take those enablers and say, “Okay. How can we take those enablers to other divisions in our organization?” What do you want to add?
Jeanie: Well, I just want to add that the more that people are seen to belong, the kinds of questions like– even just, “Tell the stories of your lives in the last month.” It doesn’t have to be something that– “Is there something that you need to share with us?” Because we all belong here. We all appreciate each other for our strengths. “What is it that is affecting you?” Even just those kinds of questions to get to the heart of people, to hear their stories from their lives. Ask them about that.
The more that focus on the people and appreciating through the curiosity of the stories of their lives, the more likely those stories will be shared when people will start to learn from each other in terms of that, not everybody has the same life. You mean, the amount of privilege we have just because of the color of our white skin is just incredible. Many people who are white have never even thought of that.
Sometimes, just getting into, “What does that look like?” Well, I can walk into a bank and nobody’s going to think of I’m there to rob it or something. You know what I mean? All sorts of things that assumptions that can be made because if you don’t have a white skin.
To me, that’s one of the most important privileges and Joan is saying the intersectionality of privilege because we have oppression in other ways and so on. Everybody can look at that, but to have those kinds of conversations of what it does mean in terms of worrying about your children. If you have– you’re Black and your children are off to school, are you worried that they’ll make it there safely? Just because of the color of their skin.
We know those stories exist. They’re becoming more and more prevalent, which is good because it’s bringing an awareness to the world that, “Wait a minute now.” Not everybody has the same safety we have to live in the world fully, as fully as possible. I think those kinds of tough questions are just, again, through the notion of story and how it impacts them. When they come into this teamwork, what has impacted them that might affect it differently because they look different.
Joan: Right. The Leadershifters like all work. It starts here inside of you. [chuckles] I love that Joan and Jeanie are suggesting before you even, go out publicly and have this conversation with your team or with your org, too, whether it’s journaling or discussing it with a coach, or a trusted partner, or an advisor, or just meditating on it. Love the question. I’m going to have to read it, “How do you intersect with privilege and difference yourself and be honest about that,” because it’s in sharing honestly and with vulnerability with your teams and your organizations that people are going to be willing– are going to be invited into the conversation because they’ll see you’re for real, as opposed to full of shit, and just trying to check a box because it’s the flavor of the day or because your board of directors is demanding it. No. This needs to come from a place of humanity within you. We all intersect with this in obvious places and not so obvious places. [laughs]
Joan: I’ll tell a really quick story related to this. This is not a new story. It goes back several years. I was sitting in a circle of colleagues and I actually write about this in a book, sitting in a circle of colleagues and we’re all introducing ourselves. The woman sitting next to me, who I’ve never met, a woman of color, gets to be her turn. She talks about where she grew up, city in Canada, and so on. Somebody across the room says, “Where are you from?” She says, “Montreal.” They said, “No. No. No. Where are you really from?”
One of the things I challenged leaders to do is to practice allyship in the moment. In this moment, I got it right, in lots of times, I’ve gotten it wrong, but in this moment, I got it right. I was sitting next to her and I think, “Okay. I can just let this go on by or I can do something.” I said, “You know what? You’ve got to ask a really powerful question. Let’s begin again and talk about where we’re from. I’ll start while other people think about this.”
I talked about my heritage, my Celtic heritage, how my family got to Canada, how many generations we’ve been in Canada. I said, “Let’s go back to the beginning of the circle and start again. Where are you really from?” I’ve stayed in contact with that woman for 20 years off and on, almost every time she tells that story of how powerful it was of somebody simply interrupting racism, not trying to make it right by saying to the other person, “Don’t ask that question,” but actually interrupting it.
I think there’s something powerful in our allyship and moments where we can appreciatively interrupt exclusion. You don’t tell somebody else they’re wrong. You think, “What can be made right here?” Well, let’s tell the stories of where we’re really from. Let’s begin again. Where are we really from? It just changed that whole feeling because I wasn’t the only person in the room going, “Okay. What do I do now?”
Shani: Right. People like wanting to crawl under the seagoing, “Oh, shit. This is happening.” [chuckles] Right. Oh, well, that’s a very powerful example of how to put this to use in allyship in the moment. I like that you call it that. That’s what’s going to make the differences, catching people in the moment. Oh, it’s so good. Okay. Let’s switch gears a little bit. It’s all obviously related, but to be authentically alive.
Jeanie: Well, that is actually an acronym. We’re using the word ALIVE as an acronym.
Shani: Yes. I love acronyms. Bring it on. [chuckles]
Jeanie: Well, it was while we were writing a chapter in the book on Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Ed first, and then, it has continued on into our Building Resilience because it was such a model that worked and people really loved it. A.L.I.V.E. actually stands for a model to be able to work with when things are really challenging.
The A.L.I.V.E. actually stands for the A, is appreciate, of course, for writing about the appreciative inquiry. [chuckles] Then, the L is actually– Well, I don’t know. I think my favorite part of the A.L.I.V.E. model, which is the Love. Who are you supporting? Who supports you in this challenging time? Where is the love around you? Then, of course, the I, A-L-I is Inquiry because you do all of this, seem to be appreciating, loving, and inquiry by being curious about what’s going on in this challenging time.
If you focus on those three and we say, then, the rest of alive is the V and the E. The V and the E are really supported by appreciating, loving, and inquiring in order to venture and take that step forward into the next stage as you evolve in your life. The story I want to tell, this is–
Shani: Right. So, what’s the V and E?
Jeanie: V is the venture. You step forward into a venture. Yes. Sorry. A-L-I-V is the Venture and that’s the stepping forward into your future through this challenging time. Then E is the Evolve because you’re never the same. All of us are always evolving, but never the same. How are you evolving?
Shani: Got it. [chuckles]
Jeanie: The actual acronym came when we were writing the book after I almost died in a very serious car accident, not even knowing I’d been in it, woke up several days after the accident, after a titanium nail was put in my femur, my ribs were crushed, my hips were crushed, my femur was– I almost lost my leg. Joan had to decide whether or not they would retake my leg or try operate and so on.
I woke up and it was– last memory I had was facilitating a fabulous appreciative inquiry training session, [laughs] that I’ve driven home from, but I didn’t make it home. Somebody drove right into me, pushed me into oncoming traffic. I was schmucked into a very tiny space. Luckily, I survived. I woke up thinking, “What’s going on?” I’m intubated because my lungs has been crushed and punctured.
Joan is beside me. My sister, Joan, who lived on the other side of the country was there at the end of the bed. Why would she be here? Then, all the medical people. I thought, “Wow. I don’t know but I am alive. I’m alive.” I felt really–
Shani: That’s something to appreciate.
Jeanie: Yes. I was really happy. I’ve gotten love around me and people taking care of me. I don’t know what this is, but I was curious and I realized the embedding nature of my world is appreciative inquiry. I just was there happy to be alive. That became our acronym because it has the things. I appreciated–
As I healed, I appreciated what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do. There was so many things I couldn’t do, but any tiny little step forward, literally, for me, learning to walk again, each of those moments I appreciated and I thought, “Well, what can I do next?” I had love around me in the hospital. I was in the hospital for six weeks and many months of physio, et cetera afterwards, but I continue to venture. I tend to take that step, whatever the next step I could do in order to evolve.
I guess I still have a titanium nail in my leg. I walk perfectly well, but I don’t have much rotation on that leg. After walking for quite a long time, I’ll get tired because it’s being stressed. This is how many years later? Ten? Eleven years later now.
Those are the challenges is that appreciative inquiry mindset and really focusing on what is the love around us that we take those steps, that we make and falls through COVID and stuff. This A.L.I.V.E. model has been brilliant because we’ve all had to venture different ways. Our business is all virtual now, instead of going [crosstalk] places and everything is evolving. We’re having to learn all sorts of new things, which is not a bad thing because our accessibility is huge now. People worldwide are easily getting in to hear us and work with us. It’s quite wonderful-
Joan: One of the things–
Jeanie: [crosstalk] -in it’s in its horribleness [laughs] because we want to hug people, too.
Joan: One of the things we write about in the A.L.I.V.E. model about venture and evolve is we write about the fact that when we face a challenging time as a leader, it can be small, or it can be enormous, that kind of challenge that brings us to our knees as a leader. We are forever and irrevocably changed.
As we venture and evolve, we are becoming new leaders. We’re venturing into new ways of being human in our work. We write a lot about venturing and evolving, “Isn’t it about everything turning out okay?” It’s about evolving into what is next in our leadership lives. It’s not an easy place to practice appreciative inquiry, but just to last those generative questions, “What did I get to do today? What have I ventured? How am I evolving?”
Shani: Right. Of course, that ties as we’ve already alluded to so nicely to the last year of all of our lives. It’s not the new normal. It’s the next normal because things keep changing. I love the A.L.I.V.E. model, even just for COVID. A connection that I just made I want to ask you about is–
All right. People have been now, in most cases, in close quarters with their family or their quarantine buddies or whatever it is, because I certainly wouldn’t want to exclude single people. I knew a lot of single people have a few friends that are– they’re their core team, family. You two, as you said, your life partners, your business partners, you’ve lived together, you worked together, you were spending a lot more time together before COVID than most people are spending together with COVID. How do you use appreciative inquiry to keep all of those pieces of your life thriving when it would be so easy for you guys to get sick and tired of each other? [laughs]
Jeanie: Yes. It’s a good question. [laughs]
Joan: I think one of the simple things that we do is we have a gratitude practice. We start every morning with that we’re grateful for. What it does is lift up those things, even though we can’t fly around the world, we can’t work face to face with our clients, all those things that we’ve done as a business for years. What are we grateful for in this environment? Jokingly, if one of us runs an errand without the other, we’re really excited because we’ve had an experience without the other person. There is that–
Jeanie: Then, we get to talk about when we come back. [laughs]
Joan: We get to talk about like, “How was the traffic?” There is those jokes also, those appreciative jokes within this very closed system. I think, as you said, Jeanie and I, I think, in COVID are lucky because we have worked together, written together, lived together for a long time. We’re used to that relationship of being close. One of the things I think is powerful about appreciative inquiry in COVID is to seek the answer to the question, “How am I profoundly embracing what is happening to me right now? How am I making it mine?” Right? Because I think there’s a sense sometimes in COVID you want to push it away, but it’s not going anywhere.
We talk about this when we write about despair. COVID’s an example of [chuckles] large-scale despair. We can’t have what it is we want. That impacts how we feel and our mental health. We write about what is your tiniest strength in this time? How might you fan the flame of that strength ever so slightly?
For Jeanie and I, one of our tiny strengths is that joke about one of us running an errand without the other. It’s a joke between us as well as an actual thing. What are the tiny flames that we can fan in this time of huge difference?
Jeanie: We like to be together. We love to go walking. If somebody is really busy, then the other one will go walking. That’s really a lovely thing to do to have separation. Most of the times we go walking together and just getting out of the house and being in a beautiful environment. We live right by the ocean. We then are with each other in a different way than when we’re in the house. Even togetherness can create variety if you get out into the open.
Shani: Absolutely. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask the question, the devil’s advocate question, which is for those people who tend towards being Negative Nellies or whatever you want to call it who would say, “Ah, that’s all good and well, but that’s just living in la-la-land to always try and be positive and blah-blah-blah. You’re just not being realistic. You’re trying to blow smoke up people’s–” You know the people. [chuckles] I’m quite certain that there’s an appreciative inquiry way that you would respond to that. [chuckles]
Jeanie: Oh, I would respond by saying, “Oh, tell me more.” If somebody is really feeling down and low, unworthy, you don’t ignore any of that. It goes back to that whole notion of the diversity, equity, and inclusion. Appreciation, you need to appreciate what it is, either in yourself or in others, don’t say I’m not going to focus on that because it’s not positive. That’s not appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry isn’t about the positive ruling the world. It is about if you focus more on what’s working, what people’s strengths are, seeing people for who they are, all that is going to make you feel better. Also, it’s going to make them feel better.
So, it’s not about saying, “Oh, I’m going to be positive, so I’ll say, ‘Oh, I love your red shirt, Shani.'” Well, that’s not appreciative inquiry. People don’t actually [crosstalk]
Shani: Those are empty compliments. Right?
Jeanie: You describe like that, they have no understanding of what we’re talking about, [laughs] which is to really appreciate the world as it is and everybody as they are, and to value, value what needs to be the deep listening. We’re talking about Leadershift. I think deep listening more than anything and asking really generative questions, which could be simply, “Tell me more about that.” If it’s something that’s coming at you like this, just appreciating that they need to be talking about things that aren’t so good.
It’s not about changing them into a positive person. That’s not what we’re talking about. Yes. There’s all sorts of different moods that we have every single day. Where we get in our book about building resilience, we get into the notion of forgiveness, forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and how important that piece is as we live in despair. Our hope is to be back in hope and hope not to get what you want, but that it’ll be as it should be.
As with my accident, I’m alive and well, but I didn’t know that when I first– I had to hope that whatever this is, it’s meant to be, and how can I be in it? What can I do now? What’s working now? It’s that whole appreciative stance of looking at the world curiously of what can be.
Joan: Sometimes, I ask people who want to talk about everything that’s wrong, as Jeanie says deeply listen, but then to ask them, “What is it you’re really yearning for?” And define–
Shani: What’s the dream beneath the complaint?
Joan: Define the yearning beneath the complaint because every complaint has a yearning. That yearning is the territory of appreciative inquiry. What is it you’re really wanting as a leader? What are you trying to understand? What are you seeking to do? Then, suddenly, they’re beginning to reframe that negativity into yearning. In doing so, a path forward opens because when we’re standing looking down at our feet talking about what’s wrong, we’re stuck in that place. It feels powerful when we’re doing it, but we’re stuck in that place, but if we can transform it into a yearning, suddenly, there’s a path forward.
Shani: I love that. Speaking of path forward, I would love to invite you to read a short poem from your book. I know you said it was full of poetry. I would love to close out on that note.
Joan: This poem was from the Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry book.
Jeanie: Hold up the book.
Joan: It’s a poem about hope.
Jeanie: Wow. Let’s come back to hope.
Joan: Jeanie gave a wonderful definition of hope. It’s not about thinking that something is going to happen just because we want it to happen. It’s about deeply understanding that the path we’re on there’s something powerful here to be had.
“My beautiful friend hope,
you point me toward the sun,
you shelter me in the rain,
you trumpet my successes
and hold me in my sorrow
ever whispering, “Rise up. Rise up.”
Shani: Thank you. Ladies, if folks would like to know more or engage your services or get a copy of the book, what’s the best way to reach you?
Joan: Best way to find us is on our website, cockellmcarthur-blair.com. All of our books, of course, are available on any electronic bookseller these days, or if you’re brave going into a regular bookseller, our books are available in any bookseller. Probably the best way to connect with us is through our website. You’re welcome to put up our contact information at the end of this. That would be delightful.
We not just in terms of people coming to us as clients, but we’re part of appreciative inquiry community around the world. If people want to explore appreciative inquiry and just want to have a coffee chat about, “I’ve been thinking about this appreciative inquiry thing and I don’t even know where to start,” we’re always up for that as well.
Shani: Great. Thank you for that. Thank you for coming on the show. I will absolutely post the website link in the show notes and so forth. Leadershifters, I hope that you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. It always amazes me that I can have folks on the show talking about a concept with which I’m already pretty familiar and it blows my mind how much I still learn and take away. Some of the questions that you, ladies, shared that I wrote down, I will use, I will recommend, use for myself and recommend to others.
“How do you intersect with privilege and difference yourself? How can we be allies in the moment?” I’m trying to read my own writing. “How might we set expectations about belonging in this team, group, organization, soccer team, whatever it is? How might we invite more people to the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?”
Then, of course, the A.L.I.V.E. acronym for helping us get through tough times, the current COVID period included in that A.L.I.V.E., Appreciate, Love, Inquiry, getting curious in those difficult times. Then, taking one small step to venture into the future as we evolve.
Thank you for evolving with me on The Leadershift Show. You know how to reach me on the various social media outlets or firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time.
Joan: Thank you very much.
Jeanie: Thanks, Shani.
Shani: Thanks so much.