Seminar Leader Mike Feinson adapts this activity from a new approach to organizational change called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI is based on the principle that change happens more quickly and effectively when individuals and organizations identify and build on what is working right, rather than focusing on and trying to fix what is wrong. An AI approach solves problems and generates employee commitment by amplifying successes. Through the use of Appreciative Interviews, one component of the AI process, this activity positively impacts the development and application of skills. This activity is particularly useful at the beginning of a seminar or at the introduction of a new skill/topic. Mike's activity is based on the creativity principle of reversal of an existing concept and offering "the carrot " instead of "the stick" to enhance learning, and it specifically addresses emotional issues such as empathy and feelings.
This activity can be adapted easily toward developing any skill.
By focusing on the positive factors of successful behaviors and outcomes , this exercise creates excitement, energy, and a positive tone that contributes to a productive learning environment. It effectively and easily breaks the ice by building connections among trainees. The techniques of AI increase learner retention. AI incorporates the concept of storytelling, because it is easy for trainees to remember facts and techniques in the context of a story. AI engages trainees in the seminar topic/skill and creates an understanding of the benefit of applying it in the workplace.
To identify examples of when you have effectively used a particular skill
To understand the factors that contributed to your effectiveness to enable you to learn from, repeat, and build on your successes
One Interview Guide for each participant. See steps 1, 2, 3, and Handout. Easel with chart paper or a whiteboard and markers.
Any arrangement that allows two individuals to comfortably sit together and interview each other.
25 to 30 minutes
Identify the skill/topic you want to introduce. For example:
Skill/Topic: C ommunication
Develop a new name for the skill/topic that uses positive words. For example:
New Name: E xceptional C ommunication
When preparing the definition for the "new name" of the skill/topic it is helpful to consider the following:
What would you see if you came into work and everyone had mastered the skill?
Write your definition in a way that makes people want more of that skill or quality within themselves and their organizations.
Prepare an Interview Guide (see Handout) that includes the new name, a definition of the skill/topic using affirmative words, and two interview questions. For example:
New Name: E xceptional C ommunication
Definition: E xceptional communication occurs when there is sincere listening with true understanding and empathy . I t includes mutual respect and open expression of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions . I t allows people to learn from each other and work together in ways that make us feel successful and proud . I t enables us to produce outstanding results .
Prepare two interview questions to follow the definition. The first question asks the interviewee to describe a time he/she demonstrated the skill/topic. The second question asks the interviewee what he/she learned from demonstrating the skill/topic and how he/she could apply it in the future.
Example of Question 1: T hink of a time when exceptional communication allowed you and another person to connect and to work together in a mutually satisfying and productive way . D escribe the situation in detail . W hat was it about you and the other person that enabled this success ?
Example of Question 2: W hat can we learn from this experience of exceptional communication? W hat two things can you do to build more of this in your organization ?
Note: For more sample topics and questions see E ncyclopedia of P ositive Q uestions , Volume One, by D. Whitney, D. Cooperrider, A. Trosten-Bloom, and B. Kaplin (Euclid, OH: Lakeshore Communications, 2002).
Explain that to "kick-off the seminar", the group is going to find out what exceptional communication (or whatever skill/topic you are introducing) is. The participants are going to accomplish this by briefly interviewing each other. Hand out the interview guide (see steps 1, 2, 3, and Handout) and give everyone a few minutes to read it. Ask the participants to partner up with someone they do not know well. (This activity works best in pairs. If there are an odd number of participants, allow only one group of three). Tell them that one partner will interview the other for seven minutes and that once this is completed, they will switch roles for another seven minutes. Tell participants that when they are conducting the interview, they should read the definition and questions aloud . They should listen attentively, be curious , and encourage their partner to share details. They should jot down key words or phrases on the interview guide.
Once the interviews are completed, debrief the process by asking the participants the following questions and writing their responses on a flipchart:
How did it go?
How did it feel?
What did you learn?
What did you learn about exceptional communication?
What made this possible?
What did you do that made the situation so successful?
Make sure to write down all of their responses ”even ones that are not positive. This will recognize everyone's input, create a productive learning environment, and in turn build your credibility as a facilitator.
Conclude the activity by saying, "From my experience, people spend a significant amount of time talking about problems and things that are wrong within their organizations. While this may be helpful, I have found that we can also learn much from identifying and studying our successes".
If you have used this activity at the beginning of a seminar or the introduction of a new skill/topic, transition into your next activity by saying, "Now that we know what exceptional communication (or whatever skill/topic you are introducing) is, let's delve deeper into the factors that create it".
E xceptional communication occurs when there is sincere listening with true understanding and empathy . I t includes mutual respect and open expression of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions . I t allows people to learn from each other and work together in ways that make us feel successful and proud . I t enables us to produce outstanding results .
Think about a time when exceptional communication allowed you and another person to connect and to work together in a mutually satisfying and productive way. What was it about you and the other person that enabled this success?
What can we learn from this experience of exceptional communication? What one or two things can you do to build more of this in your organization?
Michael J. Feinson
MIKE FEINSON is principal consultant of Engaged Strategies in Washington, DC. Engaged Strategies is a consulting company that enables business, public, and not-for-profit organizations to increase productivity and more effectively achieve their missions and goals. Mike has consulted in areas that include leadership and team development, recruitment and selection, and the design and implementation of change initiatives. He specializes in using Appreciative Inquiry (AI), an innovative and powerful approach to change that helps organizations to improve performance. This approach generates commitment and creative solutions to problems by identifying and amplifying successes and best practices.
Mike has served as a consultant to many organizations, including Nextel Communications, The Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, Sierra Club, Hunton & Williams, and Citizen Schools. He earned his BA in Business and Human Resources from the American University and his MBA in Organization Development from Boston University.
Mike Feinson has taught the following AMA seminar: