Emotional states are an overlooked resource in the workplace. How we feel affects how we work individually and together as well as our resilience to stress and our creativity. Unlike other resources to help our staff in these straitened times, positive emotional states are a zero-cost, renewable, source of energy. And they make a difference to those around us.
And so it has come to past that from time to time I find my self teaching groups ‘coaching skills’. Sometimes this is groups of managers, sometimes fledging professional coaches, and sometimes people with post-graduate coaching degrees or similarly impressive credentials. And yet, for all these groups, one of the hardest challenges seems to be developing the skill of asking questions rather than more tempting options like: offering solutions, giving advice, sympathising, sharing their own experience, or in some other way failing to inquire.
This account of a recent one-day Appreciative Inquiry Event by Alan Brunstrom of ECSAT. He wrote it for their internal use and copied me in. I thought it gave a very good sense of the client experience and asked if I might share it on my website.
I hope you find it useful in creating a sense of how these events come about, how they are experienced, and what they can produce.
Many of us have noticed a strange paradox but been unable to put a name to it. We believe that a job that doesn’t demand too much of us should mean we have plenty of energy left over for our real interests. Furthermore, we anticipate that if that job not only doesn’t demand much of us but also pays us very well, then we should experience happiness: we have beaten the system! We are being paid for doing practically nothing, what could be a better arrangement?
And yet, after an initial sense of triumph, it can slowly become apparent that the logic - lots of money for little work equals happiness and a fulfilled life - doesn’t work out. Instead we feel, well, that something isn’t right. That despite the income we aren’t happy at work.
People who are interested in the Appreciative Inquiry approach sometimes struggle to understand how they can apply it to the challenge of assessment or evaluation.
Last year I ran an evening event I called a Learning Network Event. The purpose of the evening was to provide a space for those interested in positive psychology to share and learn from each other in a gently facilitated way. We used a world café process to stimulate conversation and to ensure cross-pollination amongst those present.
In many workplaces conversation is regarded as an adjunct to the real work of getting stuff done. All too often a request for a conversation is experienced as an interruption, a distraction from real work. Seen as a necessary evil, the objective is to complete the conversation as quickly as possible so all involved can get back to work. While the topic of conversation may be regarded as important, the quality of conversation doesn’t even register. This is very unfortunate as the quality of any conversation will have an impact beyond the moment.
Lots of people feel instinctively that happiness and wellbeing at work must be important. But are they a business necessity or a ‘nice to have’. Surely it makes more sense to ensure your business is profitable and thriving before you start worrying about how people feel?
Increasingly research suggests that investing in employee wellbeing by ensuring positive work relationships, an emphasis on strengths-based development, and worker happiness has productivity pay-offs. So why delay, start promoting positive psychology practices at work today!
Forgiveness has an image problem. Asked to forgive people say: ‘but I can’t forget what they did’ or ‘I can’t imagine ever being friends again’ or ‘but I want them punished.’ These responses show a confusion between forgiveness, reconciliation, forgetting and justice.
I have recently come across a great paper about human energy, it is referenced at the end of this piece. It set me thinking about what it was saying in relation to Appreciative Inquiry. These are my thoughts.
A key challenge for leaders and managers is developing the capacity of their staff or team. Taking a coaching approach allows you to focus on drawing out motivation rather than trying to push it in! It allows you to create energy and motivation and it is usually experienced as an empowering process by your coachee. It helps people develop their intiaitive and sense of ownership of their work and tasks, and, in general, converts potential into capacity.
Here are seven tips to help make your coaching conversations highly productive.
We know it's important, where does it come form?
One of the most successful men I know grew up in the roughest streets of Bristol, and shared a cramped bedroom with his five brothers until he could leave the family home and ‘escape’ to his second choice university. Now a multi-millionaire cabinet minister, each of his milestones made it more and more apparent that his success was no simple stroke of luck.
There were no useful networks that his working class parents were a part of, there was no private school education to teach social poise; but there was drive that came from great ambition and pure determination.
I am dreaming of a lovely family Christmas, and I don’t mind if is white or grey. I do, nevertheless, mind whether it works out or not, as well as how humanly and psychologically messy it will end up being.
Last Christmas our teens decided to surprise us by setting up a casino in the living room, dressing up as croupiers, and getting the adults (that’s me, my husband, my husband’s ex and his best friend) to be the clients. As lavish, extravagant and original as that might sound, the enjoyment of the process was rather affected by the fact that in preparing the casino set-up, the teens did not check the rules of the proposed game and a few minutes into it started arguing over the way forward. In fact, at one point, the only way forward was to end the game.
In the last twenty years a new understanding of organizations has been developed, understanding them as living human systems of enterprise and creativity. It offers as an alternative to the dominant view of organizations as large and complicated machines of production. Methodologies based on this understanding, for instance Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, World Café and SimuReal, allow the whole of the organizational domain to be approached from the living human system perspective. They allow us to address all organizational challenges from recruitment to redundancy within the same living human system frame. Four key factors underpin this approach.
Unclear objectives are sometimes unavoidable, the dangers and how to avoid as learned in Bosnia
Brief account of the book
The book has noble, honourable and inspiring intentions: it offers holocracy as a ‘new operating system’ for organizations that will create a ‘peer-to-peer distributed authority system’. This operating system creates empowered people who are clear about the boundaries of their authority, about what they can expect from others, and are able to be highly effective in their roles.
For those who would like to dip their toe into the positive psychology world I've plucked a few of the recommendations from my book, Positive Psychology At Work, for you to have a look at. Hopefully they illustrate just how intuitive a lot of this is - which doesn't make it easy to do in a hierarchical, busy organisation of course!
Elicit Success Stories
Start meetings with a round of success stories. Before you get into the meat of the meeting, usually a litany of problems and challenges, start by giving people the opportunity to share the best of their week.
Many people find meetings challenging. These five tips will help your meetings be more successful, enjoyable and productive.
You can purchase our E-booklet that will take you through preparing for and running a great meeting in a step-by-step way here
1. Start with something positive
How? Ask everyone a question like ‘What’s been your greatest success, big or small, since we last met?’ or, ‘Which of your achievements over the last month are you most proud of?’ or ‘Which of your staff do you feel most grateful too, and why?’
Why? Because sharing good news boosts mood (and shares resources) which enhances creativity and problem-solving abilities
1. Grow the strengths and resourcefulness of people
It’s all too easy to focus on how people aren’t equipped for the change: they don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the experience. How their existing strengths and resources (including their extended network) can help them answer the questions and engage with the challenge that the change poses, can be less obvious. By deliberately helping people recognize and access their existing strengths and resourcefulness we can increase their resilience, tenacity and confidence in the face of change, making the steep learning curve less daunting.
Engaged employees are a business imperative: they perform 20% better and give 57% more discretionary effort  Organizations with a high level of engagement have better quality, sales, income and turnover, profit, customer satisfaction, shareholder return, and business growth, and success.  It is estimated that currently only 19% of employees are highly engaged in their work, while active disengagement cost the UK economy between £37.2bn and £38.9bn a year .
Organizations often struggle to understand what creates engagement. Positive psychology research is revealing that employee engagement is primarily a psychological and social process. There are a number of steps organizations can take to increase engagement.