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Hybrid working: skills for leadership
Hybrid working: skills for leadership

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2.5 AI in practice

How do we start having these conversations? AI has two practices and five principles to help you approach this.

Practice 1: positive framing

This has two aspects:

  • First, we need to resist the urge to see a situation or person as a problem that needs to be solved. The matter may be serious, but we intentionally choose to frame it positively, focusing on what is already positive in the situation.
  • Second, we direct attention to positive actions and outcomes.

Practice 2: asking generative questions

Generative questions are questions that:

  • spring from an attitude of open-mindedness and curiosity – for example, questions starting ‘What if…?’
  • elicit and make use of diverse and different perspectives, for instance, ‘How do you see the situation?’
  • surface new knowledge and information, for instance, ‘How did they manage this process in your last company?’
  • stimulate creativity and possibilities, for instance, ‘What might be possible if we were to…?’

Five principles

This sounds simple, but these practices are choices, and to make these choices we need to be able to pause and reflect on a situation and think before we speak and act.

This is hard to do. Most of us don’t pay attention to the factors that shape and drive our conversations. We act in the moment, often under pressure. Our immediate circumstances often dictate our framing, behaviour and reactions, rather than us choosing them ourselves.

To help with this, the AI approach provides a set of five principles. We can use these to train ourselves to think and reflect on situations, challenge habitual thinking, perceptions and reactions, and choose a positive framing to enable appreciative conversations and positive outcomes.

The five principles are shown in the table below.

Principle Description
Constructionist principle: ‘Words create worlds’ Our understanding, relationships and social reality are shaped by language and through conversation – when we change how we talk and the questions we ask, we change our reality.
Simultaneity principle: ‘Inquiry is intervention’ Change begins as soon as a question is asked or a statement made, as our mind and emotions react immediately.
Poetic principle: ‘You have a choice in how you see things’ It is possible to see every person, every situation, every organisation from many perspectives – the ‘truth’ depends on our perception and focus of attention.
Anticipatory principle: ‘We see what we expect to see, and what we look for, we find’ Our personal thoughts and mental images shape our conversations, so that our expectations determine what we experience and what we hear and see.
Positive principle: ‘Positive images and positive actions produce positive results’ More positive questions beget more positive actions and long-lasting outcomes.
(Adapted from Cooperrider and Whitney, 1999)

Leaders can take different approaches to developing an AI approach within organisations, such as bringing specific groups together to share their experiences and ideas, or at an individual level using reverse mentoring to listen to others. Many organisations are moving towards using the term ‘reciprocal mentoring’ rather than ‘reverse mentoring’ to reflect that both the mentor and the mentee gain something from the process. In the following video, Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales, and Dr Nick Barratt, Director of Learner and Discovery Services at The Open University, discuss their experience of AI approaches.

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Reflect on the practices and principles mentioned and try to use these to improve the quality of your conversations, stimulate and energise colleagues and teams, enhance engagement and purpose, and inspire new possibilities, positive outcomes and better living.

If you tend to default to a problem-focused approach, you may find AI particularly helpful. Next time you find yourself in a depreciative conversation, try flipping things around by asking generative questions. This is a great first step towards turning an unproductive conversation into a conversation worth having.