A Matter of Perspective

Posted: February 20, 2023

What Does it Mean to be in the Balcony and the Dance when practicing Appreciative Inquiry?

As Appreciative Inquiry professionals, we aspire to bring our outstanding listening skills, open and non-judgmental language, and a mindset of hope and possibilities to our relationships. If we are to provide these valuable tools to our clients, colleagues, and friends, it is critical to develop the skill of perspective.

What do we mean by “perspective”?  It is the capacity to observe a situation, particular behaviors or experiences, from alternate viewpoints.  Our perspective becomes more accurate when we ask appreciative, open questions that are hopeful, minimize bias, and are generative.  We invite those with whom we work to look deeper at their aspirations and dreams to see what might be possible.

Background, education, culture, life experience…. these factors all influence how we look at the world and therefore, how we lead and influence the people with whom we work.  To truly be effective in our work and personal relationships, it is helpful to check our personal perspective to gain insight.  I would like to share a concept that I have come to depend upon to help me expand my perspective, “the balcony and the dance.”

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, written by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky, asserts that to truly understand a system/organization, a team or oneself, we need to gain a perspective that is removed from the action.  The metaphor of “getting on the balcony” above the “dance floor” is used to provide a sense of how you might see and appreciate what might be taking place differently with a bit of distance.  When we are dancing and appreciating the music, we have a unique perspective of what it is like being fully emersed in the moment.  Equally important is the view we have when we are watching the performance.  Thus, as Appreciative Inquiry consultants, coaches and organizational leaders, we need to be adept at both practices.  When we are skilled at going back and forth from the balcony to the dance, we are open to what is evolving and can adjust according to the needs of individuals and organizations.  In the balcony, we can more easily check our own assumptions and biases and orient ourselves to the hopes and dreams of the people we serve.  When we are in the dance, we are better able to do the technical work (such as facilitating, training and planning) and that is also of great value.

Moving back and forth between the balcony and dance does take practice and the result can be personally and professionally life-changing!  The following are questions for you to consider that might help you fine-tune your “balcony and dance” skill:

  • Can I bring my best self to the interaction that I am planning today so that I can be fully present to observe and understand the needs that arise?
  • My experience might lead me to have certain beliefs about an upcoming conversation or client engagement. How can I put those assumptions aside, ask powerful and appreciative questions and be open to what I hear?
  • How can I ritualize the “balcony and dance” practice for myself? Are there reminders, key open questions or even planned pauses that can trigger me to detach and reflect?
  • When I am planning a meeting, can I introduce “balcony time” to the agenda? This is a time when all participants positively reflect on what has surfaced and what they want more of going forward.

By demonstrating the ability to move from the “balcony and dance,” we have the opportunity to gain insight, become even more effective practitioners and gain personal insights that may be truly transformational.

Angela Greenwald is a Transformation Consultant, certified Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator, Coach, and Trainer. She brings her energy and strength-based approach to business and community organizations and believes that positive, adaptive leaders can inspire small and large system change through their ability to be in the “balcony and dance.” Her aspiration is to help leaders and their organizations build upon their strengths by engaging others in conversation and living into their best possibilities.

A Matter of Perspective

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