UTS Cornerstone - A Newsletter for the UTS Alumni Association - March 2005

Michael the Mechanic

by Robin Graham

I was recently reminded of how positively people respond when one takes an interest in them. My car needed an emissions test and brake work. I had met the mechanic last year during the previous year's visit for the test. My first interaction with him was rather abrupt. He was sullen and disinterested. I asked him his nationality. He told me he was Syrian. I asked his name and he responded, Michael. When I asked him if he came from Damascus , his interest perked up. I think he was a little surprised to hear that someone even knew something about his country.

This year it went even better. When I dropped off the car, I called him by name, and we were off to a good start. When the car was ready, he did a test drive with me to check how the car was handling. I asked about Syria , and he explained that to understand the political situation we must know the history and the culture. He told me he was a Christian, and proud of the role that Syria has played in the spread of Christianity. His whole manner toward me changed. He took time to explain the quality of his work. He identified himself proudly with the skilled craftsmen for which his country has been famous. He told me that he had been fixing engines since he was 12-years-old, when he began working on truck engines with his father.

How do we discover the positive story behind a person, or an organization? What shapes the way we work and cooperate together? In the last month I discovered a web site talking about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) , which was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s at the Case Western, Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland . In the AI paradigm of organizational development people engage in dialogue to discover their most optimum experiences. These highlights are then established as the positive norms for the organization. They are identified as the   building blocks of cooperative relationships rather than merely aberrations. The AI theory is that organizations move in the direction of their inquiry. This suggests that if people inquire about problems, then that will be the direction the organization will take, whereas if organizations seek to appreciate the best in themselves they will tend to build a positive future.

AI has some very practical premises, which remind me of the simplicity of the teaching methods of Rev Moon when I originally heard of them many years ago. These were the accounts of his early years of down-to-earth ministry. I was told that Rev. Moon spent a lot of time listening to the people whom he served. Also, that he sought to find goodness even in the most difficult and trying of situations. Ironically, in the movement that he started there is often the difficulty of creating community. Instead of successful and positive stories being the norm, hurdles and problems seem to take over conversations that then inhibit the progress of the movement.

The quality of personal relationships is the heart of all successful organizations. This is particularly true in the family, the school of relationships. Families thrive on good memories, and the day-to-day appreciation of parents and children. When the family conversation constantly reiterates a failure to meet expectations, and judgment is based on what is lacking rather than what has been achieved, then a chronic roadblock can emerge. Relationships which nurture a "glass half empty" consciousness, and which are judged from the "top" down rather than the "bottom" up seem to get stuck and stop growing.

The AI approach may give those seeking organizational change a fresh perspective on how to cultivate and maintain positive communication. There is an opportunity for people in all positions within an organization to share stories that point to positive possibilities and constructive new directions. I find it hopeful that the theory of AI has developed, because it is systematic with a practical method, and can be applied in many concrete situations. It can give people the valuable experience of co-creatorship. It is worth looking into. In my everyday experience, dialogue and appreciative inquiry work. The level of relationship I am building with Michael, a Syrian, a Christian and a mechanic, feels good. There must be a new world coming.... just around the next bend ....now that Michael has fixed the car's steering.

www.appreciative-inquiry.org/AI-Life.htmAppreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life by David L. Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in Research in Organizational Change and Development, 1987, Vol.1, pages 129-169.) www.taosinstitute.net

Robin Graham

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