Dr. Jacqueline Stavros has a passion for working with others to create positive change. She is a professor of Business and IT at Lawrence Technological University, and is recognized for her creation of SOAR, a positive approach to strategic change. The foundation of her work is Appreciative Inquiry, one of the most widely-used approaches for positive change. Jackie has worked in over 30 countries using AI and SOAR to affect the lives of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations. She has written over 70 articles and 6 books, including her most recent work, “Conversations Worth Having.” Her work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and many leadership blogs. Jackie believes that our conversations create our moments and influence the world we live in. By learning the principles of “Conversations Worth Having,” we can all learn to lead positive change through our words.


Q: Tell us a little about your background leading up to when you first got started selling Cutco.

  • As a high school senior, I wanted to go off to college somewhere far away but I got a full-ride scholarship to Wayne State University. So I got to commute with my brother and his 5 friends to college every day.
  • My Sophomore year I approached my marketing professor to get his opinion on getting a marketing job and he said, “have I got the job for you?!”
  • I was skeptical at first but I really trusted my professor and the couple who trained me were so friendly, welcoming, and passionate about knives; which got me really interested.
  • They told me to believe in myself because the product will sell its self.
  • I had a great summer and learned a lot and once it was time for me to get my career job after college, the recruiter noticed I had Cutco on my resume and that’s what got me hired.

Q: So the recruiter noticed you sold Cutco?! That’s so cool!  What did they say?

  • They asked me about my Cutco experience and I remember telling them about product demonstrations, building leads, closing loops, communication, getting people to trust me, walking into a stranger’s home and walking out with a $1,500 sale. They were amazed with my experience.

Q: Eventually you found yourself at Case Western Reserve University to get your doctorate and it was there that you were introduced to and heavily influenced by David Cooperrider.  David is someone I’ve met a few times and I believe he’s someone who’s really changing the word in a positive way and he’s the father of Appreciative Inquiry, something I know is a big part of what you teach and train.  What can you tell us about the influence from David on your life?

  • At the time, Appreciative Inquiry was being used as a qualitative research technique, and there were 2 things that David said to me:
    • There is no such thing as a neutral question. In other words, when you ask a question, you don’t know if the person will respond positively or negatively.  He encouraged us to ask questions to find solutions.  Questions are a source of change.
      • “Tell me about a time when communication working was really well, in this organization or any organization.”
      • “What would be your image of exceptional communication? What would this organization look like?”
    • I was also told that leadership is not about control but rather influence.
  • What you think, what you say and what you do influences the well-being of yourself and others.
  • In short, what you say and do matters.

Q: I love what you just said there! “What you think, what you say and what you do influences the well-being of yourself and others.”  Can you unpack that for us?

  • My passion was strategic development and I was learning about Appreciative Inquiry, looking for the best of what is, what was, and what’s possible and looking at the whole system and I had the idea to take Appreciative Inquiry as an operating system but what came out of that was to articulate that operating system into a simple framework which I call SOAR.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the concept of SOAR?

  • SOAR was originally designed as a way to have a strategic conversation.
  • We started by looking at what we’re great at; Strengths; what are the possibilities; Opportunities, and then we start to think about what we care deeply about; Aspirations, and lastly what are we going to achieve; Results.

Q: In your book, Conversations Worth Having, you talk about the concept of Generative Questions. I took some notes from your book and wrote down that there are 6 types of Generative Questions:

  • Purpose questions. These center around why something is important to us.
  • High point questions. Studying past moments of success.  Anchor these stories of past success.
  • Continuity questions. Uncovering what people to consider to be the best of what already exists in a team.
  • Better image questions. “A year from now, what would it look like if we…”
  • “How might we” questions.
  • Action commitments. What are we actually going to do now to move in this direction?
  • BONUS: The Wish question.  “So tell me, what are your wishes for how we can create this great team?”  There are generally 4 types of wishes:
    • A wish that they don’t know already exists and you can grant it almost immediately.
    • A wish that was such a good idea, you wish you had thought about it yourself.
    • A wish that you know is already underway but it just hasn’t materialized yet.
    • A wish that you cannot grant them but by opening up the dialogue, you can better understand them and their wishes, and in learning that you might find a way that you can help them just maybe not in the exact way they were asking for.

Q: How else can people utilize what you teach in your book, Conversations Worth Having?

  • Really, it just takes practice. Once the concepts are engrained, it becomes natural.

Q: How do you aspire to change people’s lives through your work or through your influence?

  • My mission is to teach people to have conversations worth having.


  • It was interesting to hear that it was a professor that recommended that Jackie sell Cutco and how the job helped to open doors for her as she started her career.
  • It was neat to hear how Jackie eventually met David Cooperrider and how she came to learn the power of questions.
  • What you think, what you say and what you do influences the well-being of yourself and others.
  • Learning how to reshape our thoughts and focusing on our strengths, our opportunities, our aspirations, results.
  • The SOAR framework.
  • Jackie has another book called “The Thin Book of SOAR”
  • Positive Framing and Generative Questions.


Show Notes provided by Carlo Cipollina.

To learn more and get access to all episodes, visit our podcast page!



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