Today's Reading

This book is built on the authors' relentless optimism, yet it is anything but Pollyannaish. Indeed, in this book, the authors take us into some of the hardest moments any manager, family, business, government, or community might face. It skillfully provides exactly the right amount of theory for those who want the science of it, but mostly it's about practices you yourself can use and engaging narratives that illustrate and vivify. The storytelling is honest, heartfelt, and real. You cannot help but reflect on your own life as the authors narrate their own and other transformations.

If you read nothing else, turn to the end of the book for the gripping account of the daughter of one of the authors: it's the true story of a mother and daughter and their response to a young father's harsh and untimely diagnosis of stage four lymphoma. The story, which moved me to tears, was written by the thirteen-year-old daughter, Ally. Courageous Ally teaches us how Conversations Worth Having is also about loving and being loved. The bottom line:

You learn that in any time, any place, any situation, no matter what people tell you, conversations matter and that words, generative questions, and the cognitive power of love—seeing through the gift of new eyes—can change lives, relationships, and organizations.

If you could choose only one inspiring and resource-rich book on leadership as conversation, what do you suppose it would be? For me, the answer is right here in your hands. Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres—as well as Ally and her father, Paul—have given us a gift. In business, it will strengthen relationships because the relationship 'is' the conversation. In homes and schools, it will help you see and bring out the best in your children and young people—because those, too, are relationships where the conversational ecology is precious and can produce life-defining moments. And when you read this small volume through the lens of your own conversational history, it will likely resonate with something you and many others have experienced:

Relationships come alive where there is an appreciative eye, when we take the time to see the true, the good, the better, and the possible in each other and our universe of strengths, and when we use this concentrated capacity to activate conversations that open our world to new possibilities, elevate collective genius and purpose, and build bonds of mutual regard and positive power—not "power over" but "power to."

In the end, Jackie and Cheri have given us the gift of hope. Conversations worth having are those that allow us to grow the most and, in the process, also contribute the most. In a world where so many conversations separate us from our vast potentials, may this book change not simply our world but also the world of conversation.

David L. Cooperrider

Distinguished University Professor, Case Western Reserve University, and Honorary Chair, The David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, Champlain College, Stiller School of Business


CHAPTER ONE
SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS

One great conversation can shift the direction of change forever.

—Linda Lambert

Alisha Patel, a senior administrator at a thriving medical center in New England, was surprised at the less-than-stellar patient satisfaction report that was sitting on her desk. Her surprise turned to understanding when she saw which hospital unit this was from. The nurse manager of that unit had recently quit because she felt frustrated with the new leadership model and refused to change. Alisha was filling in until a new manager was hired.

She sent a copy of the patient satisfaction report to the nurses in the unit. She also emailed them an assignment for their next staff meeting, which was a week away: "Pay attention. Look for what staff members are doing that contributes to patient satisfaction. Come prepared to share a story of a best practice you've seen during the week."

The nurses were confused when they got the email; one even wrote back, asking if Alisha had made a mistake. "No," she replied, "please look for what's working well and bring your best story next week." This was a dramatic shift from what these nurses were used to, and it created quite a buzz. The former manager usually read them the riot act, tried to find who was at fault, and demanded they do better, or else. They were glad to see her go!

When the nurses met, Alisha acknowledged the team for their quality of care and service to patients. Then she asked about their stories. They each shared a story of best patient care and then together analyzed the stories for strengths and replicable practices. They discovered several unique actions, but mostly there were consistent themes for what created high patient satisfaction. The nurses seemed excited about the ideas. "This was an amazing way to handle our problem, Alisha," one of them exclaimed. "I can't tell you how many meetings we've had that focused on this problem, and nothing ever changed. This was so effective. I know things are going to improve after just one meeting with you!" They left the meeting committed to sharing and implementing the best ideas. They were alive with possibilities!

The conversation is the answer.


This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Founders: The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley by Jimmy Soni.
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