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Building a Culture of Wellness, One Conversation at a Time

by Ashley Hughes ASEBP | July 25 2019

Did you know that we spend roughly 95 per cent of our waking lives in conversation either with others or within our own self-talk? For me, this little fact was eye-opening. I first heard it while attending a bootcamp last month, facilitated by Deborah Connors and based on the book, Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement, by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres.

The Aha Moment

I was jazzed (one of many times during the bootcamp!) when I heard a quote by David Cooperrider, one of the co-founders of Appreciative Inquiry. He said, “We live in worlds our conversations create.” What a powerful realization! Like me, you’ve probably experienced the impacts of various conversations but have given less thought (and due credit) to how much influence they have on our well-being—both individually and collectively. This got me thinking, how can conversations be harnessed as a tool to cultivate wellness in the workplace?

The Power of Words

Conversations are akin to the heartbeat of our communities—a constant pulse in our daily lives. They have the potential to build connection, strengthen relationships, inspire, foster trust and respect, generate ideas, create possibilities and bring out the best in people, teams and organizations—all factors that contribute to a culture of wellness. It’s these conversations that add value through appreciative questions and dialogue that Stavros and Torres call “conversations worth having.

As a health promoter (and a bit of a science nerd), it was gratifying to learn more about the neuroscience of conversations and the impact that words can have on our mind and body.

The Negative and Positive

Negative conversations trigger a stress response, sending us into protect mode. When we’re on the defensive, our body is prepared to fight or flee and we have a harder time accessing the parts of our brain that help us think creatively and connect with others. On the other hand, positive conversations trigger happiness hormones (oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins) leading us to be more open, creative and able to connect with each other. Bullseye! The benefits are far-reaching, as is our ability to help build a positive workplace culture.

Get Curious

So how can we go about having more of these positive conversations? It begins with an attitude of curiosity about life and people, putting aside assumptions, making unseen information visible and looking beyond a problem to see the opportunities and possibilities. As wellness champions, whether you’re meeting with leadership to talk about a wellness idea, working with a team at your school to plan an initiative or gathering feedback from staff following a wellness event, approach each conversation with curiosity.

  1. Ask open-ended questions that invite connection. Stavros and Torres call these types of questions generative questions. Here are a few examples:
    • Invite diverse perspectives: How do you see it? What have we learned?
    • Encourage creativity and innovation: What might be possible if...? What are three wishes you have to make this place a more engaging place to work?
    • Deepen understanding and strengthen relationships: Can you share more about what you’re thinking?
    • Encourage strengths: How might each of you contribute to this wellness initiative?
  2. Create a positive frame. Imagine what might be possible if we have more conversations about what we want instead of dialogue focused on complaining about what is. Positive framing helps us talk through even the toughest issues in a way that inspires everyone to find creative solutions and take action. It sets a positive tone and direction for meaningful conversation.
    • Name it. Pinpoint the issue or topic that needs to be addressed.
    • Flip it. Focus on the best of what is and what might be and describe the positive opposite. Rather than focusing our attention on a problem’s root causes and how to fix them, get curious about the bigger possibilities and hone in on what you want to achieve.
    • Frame it. Outline the positive impact of the flip and the results you desire. While you’re at it, try to stimulate creativity and innovation by asking, what might be possible if…? It’ll help add a whole new perspective to the mix.

Test it Out

As we enter the heart of summer, why not trial these in your day-to-day conversations with family and friends? This way, when planning begins for the school year ahead and fall colours light up the tree lines, you may feel a little more confident drawing upon these new found skills. Remember, wellness-focused conversations can happen at any time. Whether you kick it off with a generative question or create a positive frame, what matters is that the ongoing dialogue has a positive tone and direction.

Don’t wait to transform your school community—kick start the conversation today!

Ashley Hughes

Despite her (completely rational) fear of bungee jumping and inability to whistle a tune from her doppelganger’s (Mandy Moore) repertoire, Ashley is, in all respects that matter, a wellness superstar. As a registered dietitian and one of ASEBP’s workplace wellness liaisons, Ashley’s wellness game is on point—as is, strangely, her piano-playing game, which is as good as it gets (even with her eyes closed)!