I remember one occasion many years ago, before Sue and I started BJ Seminars International, when I was involved in a workshop that threatened to go haywire before it even started.
It happened in a country town and I was one of a number of trainers engaged to run workshops in a government scheme designed to help a group of unemployed people run their own small businesses.
The name of my workshop was ‘Stress Management’ and, after a pleasant one and half hour drive into the country, I arrived at the venue fifteen minutes before it was due to start. I waited in the hallway as another trainer was finishing his session and could sense the mood of the participants in the room. Things were very tense and they were not happy to be there.
Then it was my turn to walk in. I said ‘g’day, ‘my name is Chris Bennett’ … and there was a deathly silence! Several red faces, hard stares, folded arms, and crossed legs basically said ‘so, what?’. There were a lot of invisible ‘elephants’ in that room!
In an instant I had to decide whether I’d stick with my planned stress management workshop, which I’d run many times before, or change my approach completely.
Well, that decision was easy; I had to change things or face a long day of silence.
But what could I do?
Very quickly I decided to ask them how they felt. And gee, did they tell me! I heard a huge list of complaints about the course itself.
As I listened, I made mental notes of the complaints and as soon as all those who wanted to have their say had finished, it was time to focus on a strength based approach not a problem solving one.
Looking back now, I realise I used some of the Principles and Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry before I’d even heard of AI.
- Poetic Principle
- Anticipatory Principle
- Positive Principle
- What we focus on becomes our reality
- Reality is created in the moment and there are multiple realities
I also used Tai Chi skills and philosophy to complement these themes.
And it worked.
At the end of day participants felt empowered to move on and deal with difficulties in a more positive and constructive way.
It was certainly a change I appreciated compared with the start of the workshop!