In Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzger’s book, Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Might Oak in the Acorn, they discuss the concept of ‘reframing’ which I feel is a key component of any successful organisational and personal change effort.
They suggest that when we reframe our reality in new and positive ways, we open our minds to new connections between ideas, people and situations.
Reframing is one of the concepts we use in our Essence of Appreciative Inquiry workshops. And one of the things facilitator Sue James emphasises is ‘not to deny the negative aspects of reality that exist’. Honouring these aspects, while also doing the work necessary to reframe them and see possibilities instead of problems, is a key part of the process.
Insisting on talking only about the positive, while ignoring anger, grief or pain that also exists in an organisation can often lead to nothing but a feel good, ‘polyanna effect’ that ultimately results in an ineffectual change effort.
A while ago we were engaged to deliver an introduction to Appreciative Inquiry and I remember the organiser being very enthusiastic and friendly. However during the session some participants revealed that all was not well within the organisation. Instead of allowing time to explore this and work on reframing their experiences, the organiser quickly curtailed their responses and we were asked to move on.
Not acknowledging or giving voice to the negative reality that existed in the organisation contradicted the aims of a strength-based approach, such as Appreciative Inquiry; get the best out of individuals and organisations. Unless they talked only of the positive, their voices were silenced. And people who don’t feel heard are highly unlikely to give of their best!
I walked away after the session thinking, well, the the organiser and staff may have had an introduction to Appreciative Inquiry, but its potential would inevitably be crushed by the ‘hidden elephants’ stampeding in the room.