Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros on using Appreciative Inquiry to create conversations worth having (#41)

Imagine your boss marches up to you and says: “that report you sent me is full of mistakes. You made me look stupid in my last meeting because the information I was presenting was incorrect.” 

You are taken aback: “I told you the deadline was unreasonable. I did my best with the time I had.” 

Your boss replies: “So it’s my fault?!” 

“Um, no. I’m sorry.” 

“Don’t let it happen again!” 

Your boss storms off and you slump back in your chair in defeat. 

Was this conversation worth having? No useful information was shared. The problem was not resolved. The relationship got more strained. Frustration and resentment deepened. 

How could we make this a conversation that is worth having? In this episode we answer this question. 

We talk to Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres about how to use Appreciative Inquiry to create conversations worth having. 

Jackie Stavros is professor at the College of Business and Information Technology, Lawrence Technological University, and an Appreciative Inquiry advisor at the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry. Jackie has more than thirty years of leadership, strategic planning, and change management experience. 

Cheri Torres is CEO and lead catalyst of Collaborative by Design, a consulting firm that helps organizations improve performance, retain talent, and transform communication and culture. Cheri has more than 35 years of leadership, teamwork, strategic planning and culture transformation experience. 

Jackie and Cheri have written a book together called Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. 

We hope you enjoy this appreciative conversation with Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres! 

You can connect with Jackie and Cheri via their website: 

You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast.

Show Notes

2:28 – how Cheri and Jackie first came across the idea of Appreciative Inquiry.
4:04 – how many hours in a day are you in conversation?
4:32 – what is appreciative inquiry.
5:34 – difference between a good and a bad conversation.
7:18 – you can feel when you are in a destructive, depreciative conversation.
7:42 – how many of our conversations can be worth having?
9:42 – our words affect each other.
11:13 – what to do when the conversation is turning sour.
12:02 – our conversations with loved ones are often less intentional than with strangers.
12:41 – example of using Appreciative Inquiry in the real world.
14:14 – Appreciative Inquiry is not about having rose-coloured glasses.
15:22 – the technique of flipping.
16:52 – how Appreciative Inquiry has impacted Cheri and Jackie’s life.
17:15 – our words matter immensely because they shape our world.
19:08 – conversations worth having at home.
20:57 – how to get your children to actually talk to you.
24:26 – the constructionist principle.
26:32 – the poetic principle.
29:01 – Are appreciative conversations something we’re born with or can it be learned?
31:01 – there is a place for the sceptic.
31:40 – appreciative inquiry doesn’t mean you ignore problems.
31:54 – analytical approach: looking for positive deviants.
33:17 – overcoming negativity bias.
36:15 – how to manage your emotions in the moment.
37:47 – asking generative questions.
42:11 – dealing with negative people who don’t want to have constructive conversations.
44:45 – a conversation worth having is not just a positive conversation.
45:23 – don’t assume people don’t want to talk to you just because they are shy or introverted.
47:30 – example of how leaders can use appreciative inquiry.
51:55 – why appreciative inquiry is more likely to influence and create change.
54:21 – How Jackie used appreciative inquiry in the hardest conversation of her life.
1:01:03 – connect with Jackie and Cheri

Key References

Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement Paperback – 15 June 2018 by Jackie Stavros  (Author), Cheri Torres  (Author), David L. Cooperrider (Author) 

Positive Framing  

Flipping Technique – Name it, Flip it, Frame It 

David Cooperrider –  founder of Appreciative Inquiry 

The Cleveland Clinic 

Deficit based questions 

Psychological Safety 

Parasympathetic Nervous System 

Key Quotes

“Appreciative Inquiry morphed into a methodology of positive change.” 

“Appreciative Inquiry is backed by research and is a simple approach.” 

“There are conversations worth having and conversations that are not worth having.” 

“Some conversations devalue people, they are critical destructive filled with judgement and blame and grounded in fear and stress.” 

“Conversations are like the water in which we swim, we don’t know we are in them until we pause and think.” 

“The words we use impact our nervous system in the moment we are talking to one another.” 

“When you get curious you can get deeper into the relationship.” 

“Appreciative Inquiry  – it is isn’t about seeing the positive it is about generating positive change towards what you want more of.” 

“Everything we do is conversations, either in our heads or with other people.” 

“I need to be more careful with my words, every word is having an impact on me and other people.” 

“Tell me about your favourite thing that happened in school today…What are you excited about tomorrow?” 

“Children are far more conscious of the words they use than adults are…they are learning the words and the impact they make.” 

“Our words create our worlds.”  – David Cooperrider 

“We can look at a situation from multiple perspectives – there is no one truth.” 

“What we focus on is what we grow and it is also what we find.” 

“If you are born into this you will go: yes, here is a theory that goes with who I am.” 

“There is a place for scepticism and a place for people to look for what can go wrong.” 

“We are wired to look for threats, the biggest threat these days is not the Sabre Tooth tiger but the threat to our egos.” 

“We are also wired for connection and creation.” 

“When you feel threatened…pause and take a deep breath and then get curious.” 

“There are questions that you can ask yourself…where am I? Am I above or below the line? What triggered me?” 

“Questions you can ask the other person: how do you see it? What information do you have that I don’t?” 

“Generative questions make the invisible visible and create new possibilities…” 

“You can avoid the negative person for the time being or you can say you have told me everything that is wrong and then say…now tell me what you like….you can try to organically build a positive conversation.” 

“Some people default to the negative but they don’t do it intentionally, there are other people who are intentionally trying to sabotage – a toxic person can destroy a team and an organisation.” 

“People assume that an introverted or shy person does not want to have a conversation with you.” 

“You may not have the most positive kids but you will have the most resilient kids.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.