At a conference I met a woman from Australia. She is an organizational consultant who relies heavily on positive psychology. She also does much work in the media. She asked if she could do a video interview about my new book. A few months later we held the session.
Over the computer we chatted as we prepared to start. When it was time, she did an introduction for her video audience. Just before, she seemed to take a breath and turn on a personal switch. She became a little more focused, a little more energized and she spoke just a bit faster. She was consciously choosing to leave the conventional state so as to operate at a higher level of investment and invitation.
As the experience unfolded I began to notice a feeling of delight. Afterwards I noticed my mind racing with ideas from the conversation. It was clearly more than a typical interview. It was a generative conversation.
The next morning I returned to the experience. Why was the conversation so generative? Yes she had chosen to become more engaging but that would be true of most media people as they go on the air.
She had also brought something else to the interview. As I pondered, it occurred to me, that when I teach, I consciously choose to go into a similar state of elevated engagement. When I do I am usually working with people who are coming from an entirely different worldview. The ideas of positive leadership and positive organization fly in the face of conventional assumptions. They are usually interested but skeptical.
Because of their skepticism it is incumbent on me to do more than instruct. I have to establish a relationship of trust and empathy. I have to monitor for misunderstanding or resistance and adjust. I have to work in such a way that it becomes possible for the people to entertain the ideas. It often turns out to be delightful, but I am carrying the accountability. It is my role to do the hard work of transformative teaching.
That kind of hard work was not what was happening in the interview. The interviewer understood the content, not only because she read the book but because she also does the same work that I do. She spends her time trying to help executives embrace the unconventional positive perspective. So instead of simply asking superficial questions, she asked questions she really cared about. She then built on my answers by adding thoughtful insights from her own experience and then asking the next question.
As I wrote the last sentence, a light bulb went on. She was doing something that differentiates great teachers. Great teachers turn their classrooms into positive organizations where learning can accelerate. She was turning our interview into a positive relationship where learning could accelerate.
How did she do this? First she had to do all the conventional things that all interviewers must do. But then she enlarged the process. She did this by adding dignity to my answers and inviting me to embrace and elevate what she had just said. She was facilitating the formation of an evolving network of accelerated learning.
What is an evolving network of accelerated learning? Consider a second illustration.
When I teach my goal is to turn all the students into a network of accelerated learning. I do the basics then I begin to ask probing questions that require students to think deeply and take the risk of saying what they really feel. At that point, I cherish the response, no matter what it is. I examine it and appreciate it. By appreciate I not only express gratitude to the person who offered it, I also add dignity to it by enlarging the meaning of the contribution. I restate it as clearly as possible, let my brain bring an associated thought, then I express the associated thought and ask the entire group a more probing question.
The group intuitively recognizes that I am engaging with them in an authentic exploration. They sense that a generative conversation is unfolding. Engagement goes up and so does the quality of the contributions. As this happens the collective intelligence expands. People realize that they are safe in taking the risk of authentic sharing. They begin to see that as they contribute, they are creating a web of deeper and deeper mutual understanding. They feel animated by the process helping each other open the doors of consciousness. Because the group is learning each individual is learning.
Creating a web of accelerated learning is not only a characteristic of great teachers it is a characteristic of great leaders. Great leaders build trust, show consideration, offer an attractive future and challenge existing assumptions. In doing this they create positive organizations where webs of accelerated learning can naturally emerge.
At the conclusion of the interview, I told my new friend that she was a great interviewer. She laughed. Then she apologized for taking more time than was planned. She said she felt so good about what was happening that she did not want to stop the process. We both walked away lifted by the accelerated learning that occurred for each of us.
When have I been a part of a generative conversation?
Is it possible to consciously choose to create more generative conversations?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?