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Conversations Worth Having (Book Review)

written by Lisa Sansom 3 April 2019

Lisa Sansom, MAPP '10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

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In his gracious and thoughtful introduction to this book, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) creator and founder Dr. David Cooperrider writes, “[t]his book is built on the authors’ relentless optimism.” This book is also built upon the deep expertise of the authors, Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres, internationally recognized for their research and consulting. It also demonstrates the growing application and infiltration of Appreciative Inquiry into individuals, dyads, and small groups, moving well beyond its original scope of systemic organizational change. It has been truly wonderful to see the principles of Appreciative Inquiry grow into so many different domains, including, now, the area that is often referred to as “difficult conversations.”

Jackie Stavros, DM

In the world of Appreciative Inquiry, we recognize that our words create worlds, so it is fitting that Stavros and Torres have included “difficult conversations” in with  “conversations worth having.” To underscore this notion, the book’s preface begins with the observation that “Conversations lie at the heart of how we interact.” Ponder that for a moment. If conversations truly do lie at the heart of interpersonal interactions, then what becomes possible? What becomes important and meaningful? What conversations become worth having, rather than shying away from them?

Cheri Torres, Ph.D.

Conversations worth having are those that add value through appreciative questions and dialogue. They are meaningful and engaging. They increase the mutual pie of knowledge and understanding. They are strengths-based and productive. They are conversations that increase our energy, enhance our connections with others, improve collaboration and problem-solving, and make us feel valued, even loved.

Appropriately, this book is filled with stories and case studies, narratives of possibility, affirmation, and positive shifts. These stories not only illustrate and highlight the potential of Appreciative Inquiry in different situations, but they also provide inspiration for the new practitioner, the struggling individual, or the curious leader who might want more of the good stuff to move into a more positive future with others.


Overall, this book brings illuminates two key practices that allow you to “consistently turn any conversation into a conversation worth having,” and five principles to guide your successful practice. Honestly, these are techniques and principles that anyone can follow, regardless of your experience or expertise with Positive Psychology or Appreciative Inquiry. For those who are deeply familiar with Appreciative Inquiry (beyond the basic 4-D model of holding a summit), there will be some great overlaps here that you will enjoy.

Close to Home

Reading through this book, refreshing my understanding of Appreciative Inquiry, and taking it into the world of dyadic interpersonal conversations made me reflect on an upcoming “difficult conversation” that I need to have with a family member, namely, my teenage son. There are several things that we need to “discuss,” and I won’t bore the reader by listing them here, but needless to say, they are important, and this is definitely a conversation worth having.


This book reminds me that I need to have a positive frame to start with, and I need to reflect on the meaning I am bringing to this interaction. I need to hold my viewpoint lightly (which is oh so hard!) and I should choose my words carefully to allow for new meaning and understanding. I know from my own failures in the past, that this is where I often stumble. As the parent, with a definite idea of what my son should be doing (basically the opposite of what he is doing right now), I’ve bashed my head against this brick wall before.

Right now, one of the biggest obstacles I am facing is that I am expecting negative outcomes, especially as I have crashed and burned on similar conversations before. It is important that I change my mindset to one that is anticipatory and opportunity-focused. I have choices here, and even if my son doesn’t follow my lead, I can at least set the example and perhaps the next conversation will be a better one with eventual mutually positive outcomes. Wish me luck!

Here’s to many more conversations worth having!


Stravos, J. & Torres, C. (2018). Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement. San Francisco: Berrett Kohler.

Photo credits

Conversation photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash
Canyonlands conversation photo by Natalie Acheatel on Unsplash

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