The biggest mistakes I've made in my professional career have happened when I dropped a stance of appreciation and a stance of inquiry. The moments when my face went red and emotions took over I failed. Let me discern which emotions are destructive. Excitement and anticipation are helpful. Anger (for whatever reason seems justified) not helpful. In a conversation that is more battle than discovery no new ground can be gained, only the capital needed to move forward is lost.
When my thermometer goes up I have learned (always learning) to step out of my self and check: What's going on with me? Where is that emotion coming from? What else is happening? (thank you Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most)
I also pull out the tool of Appreciative Inquiry.
For the past 10 years it has been a method I've taught in my Organizational Dynamics course at HUC. Year after year, students will message me the ways it has impacted how they work.
Appreciative Inquiry Headlines:
"When have we been at our best?"
"If you had three wishes what would happen?"
"Describe a time when we were successful..what were the characteristics?"
When done with a spirit of appreciation what emerges from these kind of conversations:
a. there is no wrong answer
b. together we can uncover the answer
c. the future resides in a glimpse of something we've experienced
In this kind of spirit, all is possible. "How might we?" An engraved invitation for everyone's gifts is sent.
Each person is encouraged to build off the one another's insights. The energy in this conversation is felt in the most positive way. The grand challenges we face require that invitation.
I contrast this with comments that are like a slap in the face.
For example, today, a colleague and neighbor of mine wrote a piece in ejewishphilanthropy. I read her piece... was interested, and laughed a bit at her humor. Laughing out loud on the train is not always an easy thing to do.
Below her article, someone posted a comment that with three little stinging words dismissed all that she had said. Really? The work of reshaping the landscape of Jewish life requires us to have a stance of appreciation. Then move to inquiry. Angry red faces won't move us. There is room for what isn't working. But let's be thoughtful about how we challenge one another.
Only with a spirit that values each person's contribution can we look at the hard truths that challenge us all.