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General semantics extensional devices such as E-prime and dating have been shown to help students write measurable goals that combat IFD disease (Maas, 2004). I propose using extensional devices with Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to further student resistance against IFD disease. Moreover, adding extensional devices to the AI process addresses concerns about polarized discourse--favoring "positive" over "negative" organizational experiences.

IFD Disease

First proposed by Wendell Johnson (1946), IFD disease stems from setting unrealistically high goals (Idealism), not meeting those goals (Frustration), and ultimately giving up (Demoralization). His argument that IFD disease was a common ailment for college students still resonates with many of us. Maas (2004) explained that students often set "vague and hazily defined goals" (Idealism) and lack clear "intermediate, incremental objectives" to meet goals (Frustration) (p. 333). I will demonstrate how AI prompts students to use core strengths to write realistic goals, thereby resisting despair (Demoralization). In addition to using Maas' (2004) use of E-prime and dating, students need a third extensional device--the hyphen. Integrated into the AI process, these extensional devices could help students resist IFD where it begins, with Idealism. When students use past successes to operationalize current performance goals, they could avoid both Idealism and Frustration.

Appreciative Inquiry

Recognized for its success in change efforts for organizations, communities, relationships, and individuals, AI identifies individual peak experiences in living systems. Cooperrider, Whitney, and Stavros (2008) define AI as follows:
Every organization has something that works right--things that give it
life when it is most alive, effective, successful, and connected in
healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities. AI begins by
identifying what is positive and connecting to it in ways that heighten
energy, vision, and action for change (p. XV).

Many AI practitioners use the following "4D cycle" to systematically determine stakeholder strengths: (1) Discover--appreciating "what gives life?"; (2) Dream--envisioning "what might be?"; (3) Design--constructing "how can it be?"; and (4) Destiny--sustaining "what will be?" (Cooperrider et al., 2008, p. 5).

Defining classrooms as living systems, instructors have detailed ways to use AI in course development and course assignments (Conklin, 2009; Neville, 2008; O'Conner & Yballe, 2004).

I have used AI as a re flection and assessment tool to generate change in service-learning projects (Lahman, in press). For the past ten years, I noticed an increase in participant enthusiasm during the 4D cycle. When students connect individual strengths (during Discover interviews) with larger group's ideas (during Dream brainstorming) to create small changes to service-learning projects (during Design actions), they were eager to use individual strengths for group change (during Destiny choices). Similarly, I propose the 4D cycle can also uncover individual strengths to meet performance goals in the classroom.

A case in point would be Conklin's (2009) use of AI to explore students' peak learning experiences. This exercise in conjunction with my AI experience delineates the principles underlying AI theory and praxis:

1. Discover: Students describe peak learning experiences, times when they remember learning the most and feeling good about learning, to partners in a Discover interview. When participants answer questions that focus on "peak" moments, they experience the constructionist principle (words create worlds) because meaning is created as they share stories (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 51). Asking about "peak" moments also creates the positive direction of the change, thus demonstrating the simultaneity principle (inquiry creates change) (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 55).

2. Dream: Students imagine the "ideal classroom" during the Dream brainstorming. They get excited about the process when they realize there are "no limitations" to the groups' vision in this phase. Conklin (2009) recommends asking students, "What would have to happen for this class to be a great learning experience? What three wishes do you have that would make learning always like this?" (p. 780). I encourage students to think of outrageous ideas by reminding them "there are no limitations of time, money, and supplies." I find that I need to provide specific examples such as "flying to a mountaintop" and "laptops for each student" to inspire outrageous ideas. This group envisioning process underscores the wholeness principle (wholeness brings out the best) for synthesis--"a compilation of multiple stories, shared and woven together by the many people involved" (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 66).

3. Design: The class creates provocative propositions-statements that combine participants' most frequent Discover response with the groups' most outrageous Dream idea to "stretch the realm of the status quo" (Cooperrider et al., 2008, p. 168). For example, we may not be able to fly to the mountains for class but we could meet on a mountaintop in Second Life. I have students focus upon a small change that would make the biggest difference. Keeping participants' responses visible on a chalkboard or screen helps students connect individual strengths with group dreams, using "history-as-positive-possibility" (Cooperrider et al., 2008, p. 22). The use of provocative propositions that combine Discovery and Dream responses clearly demonstrate the anticipatory principle (image inspires action), shared images of future success (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 60).

4. Destiny: Students vote for the most desirable provocative proposition, then each individual chooses what behaviors he or she will contribute to the collective's desires. Conklin (2009) encouraged students "to declare their particular commitment to the entire class" and instructors "to make a declaration about his or her behavior that is aligned with the desires of the class, thereby underscoring the egalitarian nature of the process" (pp. 783-784). In my experiences, we hold each other accountable with verbal updates scheduled throughout the semester. All of our behaviors are evidence of the free-choice principle (free choice liberates power) in action, our desire "to make a difference" (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2010, p. 71).

Researchers have added another principle--the awareness principle--because AI participants need to recognize automatic thinking habits (Kelm, 2005; Stavros & Torres, 2005). This principle underscores the need for general semantics extensional devices. For example, AI participants can be taught about language flaws such as elementalism--"the tendency to verbally split what can't be found (observed, abstracted) in the non-verbal (silent) domain" (Pula, 2000, p. 12). Teaching participants to use a hyphen between the words "positive" and "negative" encourages them not to separate their lived experiences, especially because emotions fluctuate on a positive-negative continuum. Specific directions for using a hyphen during the Discover interview will illustrate how instructors can help students resist IFD disease and avoid the "positive-ness of AI as an end or outcome" (Cooperrider et al., 2008, p. VIII).

GS Hyphen in AI Discover Interview

When students meet in pairs/triads to discuss peak learning experiences, Conklin (2009) recommended interviewers use the following questions:

1. What happened in the learning experience?

2. What did you do to make that happen?

3. What did others do to make that happen?

4. How did that experience feel? (p. 779)

Kluger and Nir (2010) emphasized the importance of "episodic memory, an inquiry into specific details of an episode is likely to generate unique knowledge that is not stored in existing generalizations, and insights gleaned from a specific episode may spark new insights" (p. 238). Similarly, Conklin (2009) stressed, "Connecting to past experience disengages intellectual interpretations and helps students feel the gut experiences of that learning... students can rediscover a past learning experience, see it with new eyes, and then share it with others" (p. 779). These questions encourage interviewers to probe for specific details such as dates and locations of the experience.

Because the Discover interviews may unleash a range of participant emotions, researchers critique AI's narrow focus on "positive" stories that do not welcome the "shadow" side of the people and events (Bushe, 2010; Broje, 2010; Fitzgerald, Oliver, & Hoxsey; 2010a). If we teach students to add a hyphen in their thinking about, telling of, and listening to personal stories, then we welcome the range of emotions present in students' lived experiences. Stockdale (2009) defined the use of a hyphen as the "joining of terms that we can separate in language, but can't actually separate in the 'real' world" (p. 30). Pula (2000) referred to the hyphen as Korzybski's cure for elementalism. As instructors, we can demonstrate a range of emotions in our lived experiences when we share peak learning memories. For example, telling students about one of ray peak learning experiences might include very positive emotions of first understanding the abstraction process in a general semantics course, alongside the embarrassment of not completing a paper on time the esteemed professor who taught this class.

Applying hyphens to thought and writing processes could help AI participants become more aware of "the inter-connectedness of the complexities in this world... their inseparability" (Brooks & Brooks, 2006, p. 63). Fitzgerald et al. (2010b) proposed including additional questions for those who discover this complexity of emotion during the Discover interview:

1. What strengths does your difficulty (pain) waken in you and how might the team benefit from that?

2. What can we learn about working relationships from this painful experience?

3. If all organizational members were listening carefully to the full range of human emotions in the room, what might their learning be and what steps could be taken to facilitate progress from each position? (p. 243).

They also urged facilitators to practice a "reflexive ethical answerability," paying close attention to the effects of polarized thinking (Fitzgerald et al., 2010b, p. 243). As instructors, this could mean exploring how well we create spaces and inquiries where a positive-negative continuum is welcomed. Conklin (2009) detailed how she values a "few moments of silence, where students have sufficient time to reflect and build their courage to speak" during the Discover interview (p. 780). Similarly, as students review the Design actions, she asks the following questions: "Are there other ideas, hopes, and desires that have not been made public? Are there any internal monologues that need to be converted into dialogues with the class?" (Conklin, 2009, p. 781).

Resisting IFD

Appreciative inquiry provides the forum for students to explore how core strengths can build future successes, thereby resisting IFD disease. Creating an extensional orientation during the Discover interview allows students to choose actions known to be successful, not unrealistic hopes (Idealism) of what they think they should be doing. Instructors can also introduce E-prime and dating during Destiny choices to help students create incremental learning behaviors and avoid goal paralysis (Frustration). For example, students can convert an individual strength such as "I am logical" to the following specific behaviors:
I have asked questions to clarify assignment rubrics in the past, which
resulted in an 85%; so I will stay after class on Tuesday and
paraphrase my professor's answers for how to earn an 85% on this
audience analysis rubric.

This example uses E-prime to describe past success behaviors and dating to include important perception checks on the road to completion (Maas, 2004, p. 336).

If adding general semantics extensional devices to the 4D process builds college student resistance against IFD disease, then perhaps we move closer to a cure for this common ailment. Because AI researchers challenge us to reflect upon our "reflexive ethical answerability," then what better way to approach reflection than by including Korzybski's extensional devices when planning courses and creating learning spaces?


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(*) Mary Lahman, Professor of Communication Studies at Manchester College, incorporates service-learning and appreciative inquiry into her teaching of intercultural communication, public relations, and general semantics. Other research interests include the use of online discussions to build critical thinking skills and student engagement.
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Author:Lahman, Mary P.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2017

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