In our Blended Learning program (with Anita, Autry, Célicia and Suse) we talk about SALT and its impact. In that respect Anita, Suse and I touched upon a potential risk of denying (hidden) conflict when the appreciative style would turn into 'only talking about the positive', or what is sometimes called 'sugar coating'. 
As for myself, I find it hard to deal sometimes with animosity or tension in groups. What to do when an appreciative approach doesn't lead to a safe and pleasant learning environment? 
Stimulated by our discussions, I'm sharing here a few articles on the topic of appreciation, conflict and power, and a story as illustration. 
I found this quote from Jung to start with:
"How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole."
One of the people in the field that I find inspiring in the way he shares his wealth of experience in a clear way, is Gervase Bushe from Vancouver, Canada. 
In 2007 he wrote the article AI is not (just) about the positive
In our way of thinking and working as practitioners we incorporate aspects of AI - Appreciative Inquiry, so this article about the possible negative side-effect of AI might be worth reading. 
In the following article he shares a story about guiding a group with undisclosed resentments. That happens sometimes,  right? -  people that confide in us as facilitators, but not with each other.
Here's the story: 
" Paradoxical intervention into groups stuck in undisclosed resentment.
I have had a couple of experiences of consulting to groups where a major theme was undisclosed resentments members had toward each other. They were willing to tell me but were adamant that they were not willing to talk about this at a team building session. In these cases I believed that discussion of the resentments could lead to clearing up misconceptions and fuzzy expectations but I was not allowed to tackle these issues directly. I used to find these assignments very difficult and hadn’t had much luck transforming such a group.

The first time I tried AI it was out of frustration and no better ideas to try. The results were a lot better than I expected. At the end of the first day of a two day retreat I led the group in the first two parts of the intervention: telling their stories and listing the attributes. I told them their homework that evening was to think of things that others had done to make the group more like the listed attributes and to come back tomorrow ready to share their appreciation’s. The next morning members came into the group with a lot of nervous energy. Then one woman led off by saying that she had not been able to sleep all night because of how angry she was with the group and how little appreciation she was feeling. Others quickly agreed that they had found the exercise difficult for similar reasons. The issues that had been simmering under the surface came boiling up and the group spent the rest of the morning leveling and working through past hurts and resentments. It was a very cathartic session. A great deal of openness was restored. As the session wound down members felt that my intervention had failed and expressed some regret for not having done what I had requested. I thought that was pretty funny and we all had a good laugh as I described my undisclosed frustration of the previous day.

I look at this as a "paradoxical intervention" (...). In this case the intervention does not result in new shared images. Rather it creates a cathartic release by forcing people into a paradoxical tension. By focusing on what they are not feeling (appreciation for each other) the issues that are causing the discordant feelings cannot be contained. This is a powerful intervention and not for the timid. But then so is stepping into the middle of a hostile, frustrated team."

End of excerpt from Bushe.

I find it a wonderful story as it shows how resentments can show up anyhow when you invite members to share what they appreciate. 


This article writes about power and control in organizations, and how sometimes AI interventions are being used to cloud the issue at hand, not allowing people to speak up with their objections. Sometimes when people don't agree with a certain direction management announces or decrees, they are being told that they should be more positive, that they should turn their complaints into appreciation:


I'm looking forward to hearing your experiences and reflections on conflict in groups. What has worked well? How do you deal with what is not said, but what can be felt in the energy in the room? Or in the jokes, the side remarks, the humor that feels off?

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Comment by Nathalie Legros on August 31, 2016 at 1:46am

Thanks Brigitta, for sharing your questions, experience and research on this topic! To me, appreciation means seing what is present, with a fresh and curious eye. It does not mean filtering the reality, retaining only what looks agreeable. Acknowledging tension is part of it, but indeed requires courage. Because it is uncomfortable. When sensing a conflict, I usually invite for a pause, with a little moment of silence, to notice the physical sensations in our bodies. I have also noticed that sharing something deep about myself (which makes me often feeling vulnerable) encourages others to go beyond duality and the facade of 'everything is nice' or 'everything is bad'. Enjoy!


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