Bavardage [appreciative inquiry #004]

    [from book part 2 When the beginning starts to begin]

    It is only a short while ago that the word ‘bavardage’ entered my vocabulary. The Dutch professor Alexander Maas gave a lecture on social constructionism (see chapter 3) and introduced this peculiar word (that sounded very French). It’s also an official English word, meaning ‘prattle’ or ‘chatter’. Professor Maas explained about methods for observation within the context of (organizational) change. He introduced two main streams of observation: focusing on the connections between people and their opinions; and focusing on the differences. Bavardage is one of the methods for being open to differences. (Other methods are ‘slow listening’ and ‘producing differences in the conversation’.)

    Suppose you would like to interview a child, or perhaps a child with autistic characteristics. How would you start the conversation? I remember Gerwin, one of our young AI-students, who already worked with autistic children, and chose to study AI just for that purpose: the appreciative approach and the art of conversation. He was very pleased with the concept of ‘bavardage’. How can it be of help in ‘difficult’ situations? The idea behind bavardage is that you need to be in some sort of conversation already, before you can go into the real conversation. Bavardage is the ‘art’ of talking, just for the sake of talking to each other. Talking ‘around the subject’. It doesn’t matter what it is about. So it can be anything. From the perspective of the interviewer, you must find out what it takes to get the other into speaking words. Probably that will succeed on subjects that are very familiar to him or her. In observing the other, what do you see worth mentioning or worth questioning about? A toy? A sports picture? Clothing? Shape, size of the body? Books, TV series? Use your observation skills together with your imagination – and your appreciation. Try to understand the others reality. Translate this into tiny remarks, subtle questions, and moments of quietness. Cherish the moment where the other starts talking. And sustain the bavardage…

    Forget what you came for, and be happy with any conversation arising. Maybe that will be all in the first meeting. If you feel you can take a next step towards your main subject, be very careful. It has to be genuine. Based on trust, built by and between the two of you. That’s what bavardage can be the enabler of.

    Do you recall situations where bavardage could have been valuable? How are you going to prepare your next ‘difficult’ conversation? How subtle can your questions be?

    You’ve just read one of the 110 chapters of my book Appreciative Inquiries of the 3.0 Kind. Find out more (and a special pre-ordering offer) on