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  • Writer's pictureSusan Tatum

Changing the Conversation

with Kelly Stewart, Strategic Advisor The Positive Business

We are often approaching the conversations we have in business from the perspective: what’s going wrong? Kelly Stewart of The Positive Business is a Certified Conversation Changer. Kelly joins me today to discuss how to shift the focus of these conversations in a way that highlights what’s working to promote even more growth.

Notes from the Show

In various situations in business, we often take a look at what is broken, what is missing, and what is wrong. There is a time and a place for that, like before taking off on a plane or operating important medical equipment. But oftentimes business conversations revolve around this ‘what went wrong’ attitude, when in fact the more productive conversation can be framed around what went right.

Kelly Stewart of The Positive Business is a consultant, workshop facilitator, trainer, and certified conversation changer. Kelly helps businesses change their conversations, reframe their questions, and find out what is working in a way that can be repeated, scaled, and built upon to create more of what business owners want.

Kelly works with teams to create conversations using what she calls the SOAR Method. She facilitates team members working together, discussing, and interviewing one another about Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. She shares some great conversation starters and questions to reframe how we approach the challenges that our brains are hardwired to focus on.

Before you approach an employee who missed a sale, deadline, or projection ask, “What happened?” Try asking, “Can you tell me more about this?” Oftentimes, leadership doesn’t understand all the factors and there could be an adversarial environment that the employee still managed to succeed to some level within. Understanding what works in adversary can prepare teams to thrive in other situations including recessions, economic downturns, and staff shortages.

If you’d like to learn more about Kelly Stewart and The Positive Business, you can reach her via email, LinkedIn, or by visiting The Positive Business website.

What's Inside:

  • How and why do our conversations need to change?

  • Finding differentiators & areas of focus through conversations.

  • What is the SOAR Method?

  • How to reframe questions to shift conversations in business.

  • Handling challenging conversations in a difficult economic climate.

  • Selling without concentrating on selling.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:38

Welcome back, everybody. Today my guest is Kelly Stewart and Kelly is a certified conversation changer. And if you you know me, you know that the word conversation got my attention right away. And I'm really excited about this, this episode, because in our pre call, Kelly had so many wonderful things to that I learned from her. And I think there's going to be a lot that comes out of this one. So welcome, Kelly.

Kelly Stewart 1:04

Thank you, Susan, it is an absolute pleasure to be here with you. I have thoroughly enjoyed our earlier conversation, the one we started right before the show. So thank you for that. It's a real pleasure to be here.

Susan Tatum 1:15

Well, um, you have a lot to contribute, and you have a business that's called the Positive Business. So tell us before we start digging into the content here, tell us a little bit about what who you are and what you do.

Kelly Stewart 1:30

Okay. So I am a consultant, and a workshop facilitator, and a trainer in no particular order. So I can train people on the conversation frameworks in which I'm certified in. I also use those to design and facilitate strategic conversations with organizations b2b primarily. Not always. I also work with large nonprofit organizations, philanthropic organizations, and but just by the nature of that work, I ended up doing some consulting as well.

Susan Tatum 2:11

Okay. So, so you're a certified conversation changer?

Kelly Stewart 2:13


Susan Tatum 2:14

How and Why do our conversations need to change?

Kelly Stewart 2:20

Excellent question, thank you very much. For I would say many decades now, it would, it's rather apparent to me that we folk tend to focus our conversations, especially when we're talking about business strategy, or organizations on what's missing or what's broken. And we've been rewarded, I would say, almost disproportionately for our critical thinking. It's good, it's necessary. And I always say to people, I want to know what's broken or missing, before we take off in that giant airplane to go somewhere. So there are times when we need to know that I want medical device manufacturers to be thinking about what's broken, what's missing. So you know, there's a time and a place for that. And what we don't do often enough in many other situations is have a conversation about what is working. Because when we think about it, what's working in the organization, when we can really identify it, when we can be specific about it. Those are many proven track records of success, things that are going well in the organization that can be repeated, scaled, or in some other way built upon to create more of what we want right now.

Susan Tatum 3:41

So this, like if you're doing strategic planning, let's say or annual planning or whatever. So we have, you're saying we have a tendency to look at what went wrong. And not where we should double down?

Kelly Stewart 3:59

Yes, we look at what went wrong lots of times, because that's the impetus for the strategic planning. Our sales goals didn't get to where we want it to be. We weren't profitable enough. So there's the gap. Okay, we've got to do something about that. So then we start having conversations about things that we can do that we often temper, because we're still in that mindset, we're still the best of who we are, even when we're really trying hard to be creative. After we've had those conversations about, here's why we're here today. Our brains are so focused on that we're just wired to say, Well, wait, is the idea I'm suggesting now? Is that something that would not get us to where we want to be in our sales this year? So you're always tying in a tempering those ideas down so that you are not at risk of making the same mistake?

Susan Tatum 4:52

Well, I.. that that word risk is one that you know, I hear people talk about that in terms of the types of cultures to have having a culture that that people need to feel think I heard it referred to as psychologically safe.

Kelly Stewart 5:12


Susan Tatum 5:13

And so I guess you then you would you would say, well, the conversations that we're having, are contributing to people not feeling.

Kelly Stewart 5:24

Exactly, exactly. And it is the nature of the conversation. So we know what a destructive conversation is, you know, hopefully, you and your listeners have not been involved in too many of those. And we know what a critical conversation is like, why did you do that? You know, you're so sloppy with your paperwork. Right, those critical conversations, then we have affirmative conversations. You're awesome, great job. And that alone, while better preferred than the other two, in terms of helping people feel safe, is not enough to really encourage more positive thinking. It really needs the question to go with it. So Susan, I love what you did last quarter. It really you produce great outcomes for our department? Might you train other people on how to do this in our department? Might you share some of the best practices with other departments so that they can replicate what you're doing? Oh, sure. Now you feel psychologically safe to share about what you've done? It's not a there's not a binary, right or wrong answer in what you're doing there. You're not at risk.

Susan Tatum 6:43

I also have an action plan. I mean, you've told me the steps that that I can take to help yeah.

Kelly Stewart 6:49


Susan Tatum 6:50

Yeah. So what is it about? These when we say, Okay, what why did you miss your numbers? What does that do to the individual mean? Why is that the wrong approach?

Kelly Stewart 7:03

Right, it implies that person did something wrong, right off the bat. And as a business leader, we don't know that yet. We don't know what contributed to those numbers not being hit. So the person who's responding to the question is automatically on the defensive, triggering the amygdala, the part of the brain that's responsible for keeping us safe. And limiting what that person can think about in terms of getting up to the top part of their brain, the prefrontal cortex, where they can really do some good analysis, and some good context thinking, to share what went, what happened.

Susan Tatum 7:45

So then, how do you get this, if you start off with alright, we didn't make our numbers. Let's first let's look at what we did, right? Let's look at what worked. But at some point, you have to get to what didn't work. Right.

Kelly Stewart 8:00

Right. So you can really, you can start that with, Hey, we didn't make our numbers. Can you tell me what you know, right now about that? Because maybe there's even more information to come in. Maybe there's a supply chain issue, right? Maybe there's something else, there's more data. But that's the point as the business leader, we don't have the answer. So when we ask a question, like, you know, could you tell me more about that? That's a generative question. We don't have the answer for it already. And we're trying to make something invisible, visible. So might, you know, can you tell me a little bit more about that? That's a good place to start. And then you're going to hear Well, right now, you know, we're, we're waiting on this, we had X number of people out sick. Okay, great. So who was on staff? What did they do? Right now, you're shifting to the what did work? Because we've got to find a solution. Right, we've got a and in our finding the solution, what we're doing is saying, we have a solution, if you were running on half staff and your numbers were only down 40%. That's pretty good. Because that half staff, your number should be down 50%. Right. So you know, okay, so then what was going on there that they were able to persevere? Even though they didn't have a whole team with them? Did they cover someone else's clients? You know, were they taking an orders? Were they working extra hours? What was happening there that made them successful in the sales that they did get? Because that's really and this goes back to your question, why did the conversations need to change? That's really what we want to focus on. There was some type of adversarial environment, right? Something was not working in terms maybe out of out of the company's control out of the departments control. But at the end of the day, the sales came in. And that's what we want to examine how did those sales come in? What did that team do to make those sales work?

Susan Tatum 10:01

So when we were talking before you you had given some examples of how you would phrase those kind of questions. I think one of them said was one of you said was like, tell me, tell me about a time when you met your numbers?

Kelly Stewart 10:16


Susan Tatum 10:17

And what and what was different than Is that what you would ask?

Kelly Stewart 10:20

Yes, so right. So that's, that's another scenario where let's we don't know what's going to come from this conversation when we kind of examined. How did we How did we get the sales that we got? Okay, so now we have to talk about how are we going to do it differently next month, so that we can meet our sales goals. When you're already feeling bad about not meeting your sales goals, again, it depresses your ability to be creative, to be innovative, to be thoughtful about what you're doing. And that's not a character flaw. That's just the neurophysiology of what of how we're all wired. So if you can move into the, hey, you know what, let's just, you know, pause for a second, take a deep breath. Let's talk about when it went really well here, because we've been through adverse situations before, right, this this is what business is, peaks and valleys. Tell me about a time when your sales went really well, when we were in some other adverse situation. Maybe it was the 2007 recession, right? Maybe it was something completely unrelated to a national focus, but something that was happening in an industry. So you know, tell me about a time when it went really well. What was the high point experience for you? Oh, okay, great. Who was involved in some of that? Oh, well, I had a manager, we worked in a team, we were cross trained. Oh, you know, what were we selling? Because it's not always at your company that this took place. Sometimes people are carrying forward stories from a previous employer. So you know, what were you selling? What was the market? What were some of the things you did? Okay, great. Now we're starting to get best practices, we're starting to get knowledge of the market, because that comes up a lot in these types of conversations. Well, we knew our customers were looking for x. And we didn't have that to sell them.

Susan Tatum 12:23

Yeah right.

Kelly Stewart 12:24

So they've gotten knowledge about what's going on, or we knew our customers, were starting to slow down. So we pivoted a little, you know, we kind of jumped in front of it, we started offering them a different pricing bundle, whatever those things were, I mean, I completely making this up, you're on the fly. But you're starting to get best practices, you're getting knowledge, you find strengths that you didn't know that your team had, because it's very hard for us to identify our own strengths. So you're getting you know, you find out how this team perseveres because you hear that in the stories that they're telling you. I just kept at it. I stayed up all night, I drove in my car, 150 miles, whatever those things were, that made that successful. And then you find that they have connections also, because if they've done well, especially if it's not been in your company, but let's say it's with a previous employer, if it's a related industry related product, that's when you find out, they work with a whole bunch of different clients who might be clients for you now. Right?

Susan Tatum 13:29

Yeah, yeah. So you use the word recession. And that is, I'm going to throw something at you. And I'm sure you've thought about it. But we are, obviously this, we're recording this the last week of July in 2022. And we are in some shaky economic ground. How can companies use these these different conversations, to, to plan to figure out what they should be doing what they should do next.

Kelly Stewart 14:00

My first piece of advice actually comes from my father, don't panic. He was served in the army. And his thing is panic kills. So and again, fear based, right, because then we can't get to the rational thinking that we need to helpful creative thinking. So the first thing that I would encourage people to do is just to take a step back, pause, breathe, and get curious. And that comes right out of my training. Get curious means when's the last time we had some unfortunate economic conditions? What did we do to get through that time? Or, or and what did other companies do? That I found out about after the fact maybe it was a competitor? Maybe it was somebody in my network? What best practices did I pick up from them that I didn't realize they were doing at the time, but then when the recession started to lift, they were like, oh, yeah, I did a, b, c, and d. And that's really what helped us get through. Can you apply some of those things now? What else might be possible? You know, is it time to maybe pause on some things or not? Is this the best time one of the things this may resonate with you too Susan? You know, people don't do marketing when times are good, and then they can afford it. They feel when times are bad. Well, if everyone is thinking that way, and a lot of companies are you may be the only person reaching out to customers who may may not be ready to buy in the next three months, but maybe they're ready to buy six months from now. And you're the last person who talked to them?

Susan Tatum 15:42

Yeah, yeah. Haven't we seen that through all kinds of slowdowns that exactly ones that stay visible that land on the top? Well. So let's say that I mean, I think one of the things that that should be done is to really understand your clients in this in this economic time to understand your clients and what what is a must have versus a not to have. So and I would say that having conversations with your clients and your prospects to understand that would be a pretty good way to go about doing it. Yes. How could we have these conversations without stepping in it? What do we say?

Kelly Stewart 16:26

Well, it's the same type of situation where I can't under understate this, you want to be genuinely curious about what's going on here. So there is a bit of empathy that comes into all of this. Because if you're going to have a conversation with your client, you want to put yourself in their shoes, you want to be looking at what they do through their eyes, and really trying to understand, because you are, according to most marketing, that I say a solutions partner. So if you're a solutions partner, then you actually have to be not thinking of them with dollar signs in your eyes. So if you're doing that, then you would ask them the same types of things. How are you know, how are you today? Because we're, we're just concerned, how are you today? What do you see, you know, what are some of the short term things that you might be doing, that might impact what we do for you? Because the idea there is we want to be able to create something together, maybe the relationship will change a little bit. And it's not necessarily for the worse, it might just be different. And maybe that's in the way things are build. If it's the difference between saying, Hey, listen, I know you bill me monthly, Can I switch to a quarterly plan just for the next six months, because I will be able to better forecast my own revenue so that I know I can pay you but you know, like, or I know we have a contract with a six month get out clause, can I have a three month get out clause? I mean, these are just business decisions that have to be made. But we have to be asking the question, what would best support you in the short term? There's a good place to start. So we all know what we're doing now. Is there anything that we're doing now that we might change in the short term, if you are really anticipating because we all know there are industries that kind of feel at first. And hopefully, this this won't be a deep or long recession? They're not forecasting it to be that way. So you know, if that's the case, then let's just say what, let's just talk about the short term today.

Susan Tatum 18:35

That makes sense. So when you work with your clients, you said you do workshops, you do training you do you do consulting, are you? Well, let's just say in a in a workshop, are you actually working? Are you working through conversations with them? So they've got a specific opportunity? I'll say instead of a problem, and you're helping them, you're facilitating those conversations.

Kelly Stewart 19:00

Yes. So what happens is, typically someone will be referred to me or this is where I develop business, they will either be referred to me or I do a lot of speaking engagements. And so someone will come up to me and say, Okay, we need to talk. And they will tell me what their challenges because that's what we're hardwired to do this, you know, I want to do this comma, but I can't and get all of those reasons. And that's really good for me to hear. Or I want to do something, this is the other comma, but it certainly comma. And I don't think my team is ready to come with me on this one, because it's a little different from what we've done before. Can you help with that? Yes. Okay. So in that initial conversation, I have a better idea of who needs to be in the room. Typically, with companies it is the the the team, the employees. However, it has also been former clients, vendors, people in their network who have referred business to them in the past, they're not necessarily in the room at the same time, although they 100% can be but many times I just end up interviewing them myself. And I bring that to the conversation. And then when I do is, there's a whole language and structure to what I do. So I design this conversations. Everyone's in the room. This this is not about strategy taking place with a like a handful of people in a conference room. Everyone's in the room. The the the groups are all mixed up. They work in pairs, and they interview one another based on the questions that I've developed that work walk them through, in not just Usually this order but not always strengths. So we're going to have conversations that will reveal strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. And that's a sore method that I use.

Susan Tatum 20:51

Okay, so then they're, they're getting, they're coming. They're coming away with a plan or a strategy or something like that. Are they also learning how to have these conversations themselves? Or how to approach other people?

Kelly Stewart 21:08

Yes, absolutely. Because we go through those four segments. And there's generally two to three questions around each of them. So people are starting to get an understanding of how it works. Working in pairs is often new to them. And the idea that they're not joining one another in conversation. So it's not like I would say, ask you a question. Know, Susan, tell me about a high point experience when business was going great for you. And you say, Well, you know what it was 1982. And I jump in with 82. That was a great year I was doing right. It's not that I listened to you, because I'm interviewing you. And so they have like, kind of some prompt questions that they can use. Tell me more about that. What really stood out for you. And they're looking for that quotable quote, In what someone says, that really crystallizes. What made that a good experience or strengths. I'll give you an example, worked with an organization at the beginning of the pandemic that was doing fundraising. And they had always done their fundraising in a traditional way. And a lot of that had to do with in person events, no longer possible in that time. They had people who had been on their board a very long time, and were not very tech savvy, admittedly, you know, that's they all told me that. So prior to us getting into the room, I asked them all a question, tell me about a time you learned something new, and it went really, really well for you. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Well, sure. And this is where I get what I call the exquisite details, because you can think that you know what people are going to say, but you never do, because we've all had these unique experiences, right? So you know, people said, Well, I really wanted to, oh, I learned how to play the piano, I did this I practiced, you know, it was just something I was like a fish out of water, I got a tutor. And they recalled this positive experience when they learned something new. So when we got into the Zoom Room, that day, when it came time to talk about doing new things, or doing things using technology, instead of being in the room, it wasn't a barrier any longer for these people. Because they knew either they would learn it, and they knew how they were going to learn it, they were going to get a mentor, they were going to practice with someone. So they they knew those things, or they just wouldn't be doing that part of the work. But they knew how they could start to help someone. So the ideas were coming up that we weren't really expecting was like, Well, we do this in person, Chef thing and like an auction. Why don't we have the chef go on Zoom? Because they were all on Zoom for the second time. So they were all on zoom with me? Why don't we have the chef go on Zoom. And we could still do this auction, right. Like, and there was the energy and because it was no longer a barrier they had already identified within themselves strengths that they had that would help them overcome any perception of oh, I don't know about that. I don't know about technology.

Susan Tatum 24:04

Interesting. So one of the things also that, that you mentioned, when we talked before was how this these, these different conversations can be used to identify points of differentiation, which is one of my soapbox is that people and companies, experts, whatever. buyers need a way to make a make a choice, and they need to know how you're similar and how you're different from others. Otherwise, they're just gonna go for the lowest price.

Kelly Stewart 24:35


Susan Tatum 24:36

So how, how How do you work through something like that? How do you get to? How do you figure it out using conversations?

Kelly Stewart 24:45

It's definitely a Strengths conversation. And again, not one where I say so what are your strengths? And I give them a list of things. It's a story. Tell me about a time when who do you admire? What companies do you admire? Uh, we admire them, you know, XYZ company, because we admire their integrity. Tell me more about that. Well, we have a lot of integrity here. See, so like, they're resonating with people who are similar with them. So we do a lot in that area of strengths and ask the question a couple of different ways. When you hear this, each pair reports out of their interviews and we put all of that like every good workshop facilitator, I come with post its and we put those posts it's all on the wall and we can start to categorize them. And patterns start to emerge right away. So we start to see some key strengths emerge based solely on their stories. So we can ask about that. The other question is aspirations, where where do you want to be? It's it's three years from now. And you're going to do a video about all the great things that have happened around this strategy. Since we've been in the room today, what are the highlights you want on that video, three, three highlights that you want to see covered in that video. And again, it's they're not being asked to create the video. They're not being they're not being told that someone else's three points won't get into the video. So it's a very free open kind of thinking, free, free flowing thinking. So here are the three things that I like to say, Great, here are the three things right, same thing, we have all the stickies up on the board, and we start to see those patterns emerge. When we see what those aspirations are, that often informs how you're different. It's how you're different in the way you do something, we want to be known for always providing on time service, no matter what we want to be known for how we treated our clients, we want to be known for the relationships that we have, not with all of the people access, essential to our success, not only our team and our clients, but with our vendors and our suppliers and the people, our accountants, so people who provide services to us, our community. Yeah. So when you get into those aspiration questions, that's when you start to also hear, this is how we want to be different. And then that goes back to the opportunities because then we say great, well, if that's what you're shooting for what might be possible then in terms of opportunities, if everyone else is zigging, in your industry, how will you zag toward what you want? Not toward what I tell them they should want? Right towards what they want to be known for?

Susan Tatum 27:40

Do you find that I do anyway that people are there is there is fear in being different?

Kelly Stewart 27:49

Yes. Yes. It's a risk thing.

Susan Tatum 27:52

Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Kelly Stewart 27:54

it's a risk thing. And it's real. And I and what I love about the frameworks that I have I'm certified in conversations worth having, I'm certified in appreciative and gray, and conversations worth having is rooted in appreciative inquiry, which was started as an organizational development approach to change. That's really what we're talking about in all strategy, right? something's changing. And what I love about what those frameworks help people do, is to take what feels like natural next steps. They can be a little baby steps, or they can be big steps, but they're not really taking somebody so far out of their comfort zone that they they can't they're paralyzed. And can really can't do the work or don't have the confidence. You stretch goal. That's one of the big steps, right, we can do a stretch goal, but sometimes depending on what the situation is, if it's been particularly traumatic, that baby step has to feel very natural also, even if it's

Susan Tatum 28:55


Kelly Stewart 28:56

it's right because it's it's forward movement. And it's moving in the direction we want it to go in.

Susan Tatum 29:00

And you do it and you say, Did you realize it didn't kill you? So maybe now I can take another step.

Kelly Stewart 29:08


Susan Tatum 29:09

that that makes sense. Well, Kelly, thank you so much for being here. And you know that I could just keep going on and asking you questions, but I'm afraid our time is up. For the folks that want to follow up with you and learn more about what you do. What's the best way to do that?

Kelly Stewart 29:21

Sure. They can reach me at Kelly K-E-L-L-Y @ I'm also on LinkedIn. Kelly Stewart to I believe it is because I was an early adopter on LinkedIn. And yeah, those are great ways to find me.

Susan Tatum 29:40

All right, well, and thank you so much for sharing with us. And we will talk in the future I'm sure.

Kelly Stewart 29:48

Wonderful. Thank you


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