The Art of Being ‘Generative’

I had a personality test done a few years ago – back when I was in a coaching group with some other online entrepreneurs. It gave me some really revealing results about myself and my style of relating. Or, should I say, my styles (plural) of relating.

The test showed that I am a split personality of sorts — I have a very nurturing and supportive side (hence being a great coach, friend and overall cheerleader) and I also have a very driven and results oriented side (hence being a strong strategist and businesswoman). These two types are almost polar opposites — the test I took described this as a classic ‘creative personality’ (hmmmm, guess I’m a textbook case on that one given what I do and all!).

Common Temperament and Style Tests:
You might have taken different typologies yourself over the years in coming to understand yourself. Maybe Myers-Briggs, or the Kersey-Type Indicator … or the Enneagram (Sandra Maitri and Don Riso are my favorite Enneagram sources). All of these are pretty commonly personality tests and things I often recommend to my clients. Gives them (and I as their coach) an idea of how they are wired and what their usual habits and modes of being are. What your strengths are and your weaknesses or trouble spots.

Communication and Conflict Skills:
One of my own weaknesses is communication. As an introvert I am great at writing, email and social media. And as a facilitator, tele-class leader and occasional radio show host – I do just fine with public speaking and formal venues. And as a coach, I am great with guiding and working with clients on the subject matters I have expertise in. But there is one area of communication that I pretty much suck at — and that is inter-personal communications that involve conflict. And I know I’m not alone in this.

My nurturing side just wants to stay friendly, nice and take all the blame on myself – until I get fed up with that. While my driver side wants to blame, lash out and make someone else wrong. Neither of them works well in a conflict situation and to make matters worse, I can ping pong back and forth between the two (utterly confusing (and sometime hilarious) for the poor person I am going at it with).

As my business grows and my team expands (and as I actually go about creating a personal life for myself too) I’m having to ‘grow myself’ in this really important area. Perhaps you are finding this too as you emerge into your Next Self!?

The Art of ‘Generative Conversations’:
Thankfully I have a very patient coach (who is also a skilled therapist – bless her heart) who is helping me with this growth edge. Judy and her colleagues are teaching me a way of being in ‘generative conversations’ with others … instead of habitual reacting. I don’t know about you, but I certainly never learnt this stuff growing up. Instead I saw a bunch of withdrawing and/or acting out. So, as an adult, I’ve got to grow myself up a bit more and figure out how to do these things more maturely.

So, what is a ‘Generative Conversation’ anyways? You can plunk ‘Generative Conversation’ into any search engine and you’ll find a ton of stuff on it. Basically a Generative Conversation is one that you approach with the intent of OPENING the conversation, rather than shutting it down. It’s about owning your assumptions and projections rather than just splattering them onto the person you are engaging with. What a concept eh! (I know, sarcasm doesn’t translate well).

Instead of assuming what someone is thinking or feeling – you instead check out your assumption/projection and see if it is true. You may be right or, you may find you are wrong, at least to a certain degree. Then, you can use the information you have just learned to build greater rapport and understanding.

An Example:
I used this a few months ago with a long time friend when he and I tried changing the nature of our relationship to a romantic one. We ran into some blocks and came to an impasse. I really valued his friendship so instead of letting the silence continue, I took a risk and shared how I was feeling and expressed a genuine curiosity about what was going on for him. Genuine is the key word.

I basically shared my assumptions about what I thought was going on and asked if I was correct. I was right on some of them – but significantly off on others. We ended up having the most honest and in-depth communication we had ever had. Instead of feeling frustrated and muzzled I was able to walk away feeling relieved, heard and understood – sooooo much better. And, I understood and respected where he was coming from too … even though the answers weren’t exactly what I wanted to hear and our flirtation
ended, decently.

Ways to Phrase:
There are some phrases you can use to evoke a more generative conversation with someone, no matter what the challenge you are dealing with. Here are a few to get you started:

“When ‘x’ (insert situation or fact) happens, I tell myself it means ‘x’ …and then I feel ‘x’ (insert emotion). What are you telling
yourself about it?”

“The story that I’m telling myself about this is …. (insert your story). And the feelings that this leaves me with are (define your feelings). I’m curious what is going on over on your side … what are you telling yourself and what are you feeling?”

“I notice that I’m feeling … (insert your feeling) and I’m really curious about what might be going on for me … my guess about it is …. (share your guess). Would you be willing to share what is going on for you – I’d really like to know”

You’ll notice that these three phrases take the onus and pressure off of the other person. They require you to get self aware and curious about yourself and your own reactions and share them in a safe and respectful way. There are many, many ways to look at and consider a situation. Different people, given their backgrounds and natures see and feel things in different ways.

Just because you give a generative conversation a try doesn’t mean it will be well received. Not everyone cares to hear your stories or feelings about things. And not everyone is capable of identifying and sharing their own stories and feelings – it does require a certain level of self-awareness and vulnerability. However, some people will be able to meet you there – sometimes the people who you assume can’t. And that can be a lovely experience and a real eye-opener and label breaker. It’s worth taking the chance to find out.

Generating Our World:
A deeper concept running under this that is compatible to Law of Attraction studies is that we are creating or ‘generating’ our world … according to how we are habitually engaging with it. Our habits sometimes are so ingrained and familiar to us that we don’t see what we are doing. Hence, we don’t see how we are in fact CREATING our world by the knee-jerk and often unconscious decisions and actions that we make all the time.

Having the intent to have a Generative Conversation can shift your world. When you act differently from your norm, there is a chance that the world will respond differently to you … sometimes showing you an alternative reality that was pulsating there all along, just waiting for you to take a different stance. As individuals, when we act different, we shift our personal world … enough people do that then our cultural world shifts too. Here’s to evolving one person at a time! We all add up and can affect the collective

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought … and I wish you well in engaging in a few Generative Conversations of your own. ?

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© 2010 Christina L. Merkley


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Christina Merkley, “The SHIFT-IT Coach” and creator of the SHIFT-IT System®, is a Visioning and Strategic Planning Expert specializing in Visual Thinking and Law of Attraction techniques. Based in charming Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, she works deeply with individuals, partners and conscious businesses to define and manifest what they truly want. And, trains other helping professionals in her innovative ways of working.  For more information visit:

One comment on “The Art of Being ‘Generative’

  1. Sharon on

    Hey Christina,

    I loved this article, absolutely food for thought. You have sparked a curiousity in me to read your article again and ponder, also to read more on the topic. I too would like to go deeper and face my deamons in personal relationships. Thanks so much Christina.I love being witness to your growth and wisdom, which always is yet another opportunity to take a look from a different perspective.

    Hugs Sharon

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