The Power of Deep Conversations

Paired ConversationWe’ve just finished running our third Essence of Appreciative Inquiry workshop and yet again, our segment in which participants share their stories in pairs on a particular theme had a significant impact for some in the group.

And for one person it was a powerful transformative experience!  We usually find this happens for at least one or two people in each workshop.

We could take the credit for being ‘fantastic facilitators and trainers’ but really all we do is create the space in which people can have deeper conversations with the potential to create transformation.

Our ‘Essence” workshops are packed with a variety of activities to engage, challenge and entertain participants throughout the two days and we usually allow up to one hour for the deep conversations segment. When we tell people ‘you’ve got an hour‘ you can almost hear them thinking:

‘One hour!’

‘What I can find to talk about in a whole hour?’

‘This is going to be a long time.’

We then ask the pairs to go where ever they feel comfortable to share their stories. Very few, if any, stay in the room. Most wander off to whatever pleasant environment they can find nearby such as a coffee shop, park, bench seat, or gazebo.

During that hour we wander around occasionally and see  every pair engaged in a deep conversation. We can’t hear what they say and we observe for only a few moments before moving on. But we always can see their relaxed and engaged body language – people are nodding their heads, leaning forward, smiling and looking reflective.

After an hour they are usually still deeply involved and we have to remind them gently to return to the room. Even then some take a few minutes extra because the conversations they are having are highly significant for them.

Why do deeper conversations have the potential to produce transformation?

Well, here are some of the reasons:

  • People’s stories are about what matters to them
  • They have the time to relax and share those stories
  • The environment they choose helps elicit sharing as opposed to a standard ‘training room’ which can be sterile
  • There is privacy. The stories they share are between two people, whereas a group discussion (far more ‘public’, no matter how small the group) can inhibit deeper conversations

Some facilitators and trainers may find it difficult to allow a whole hour in their program for ‘having a yarn’. And if they do use paired conversations they may only allow 10-20 minutes – which is okay if time is very tight. We still use shorter paired converations if the workshop is a relatively short one.

But through our experience in longer workshops we have found that one hour conversations have a significant impact.

Once you start a deep conversation, you start the process of transformative change. And isn’t this what most facilitators, change agents, managers and leaders are trying to do?

As Meg Wheatley once said:

There is no more powerful way to initiate significant change than to convene a conversation. There is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about.

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