As an organizational development consultant and a forest therapy guide, Everett Marshall is an expert at taking groups and individuals through the liminal territory of change. In this episode he discusses how the principles of Appreciative Inquiry and Forest Therapy are connected and how he applies them to assist his clients generate the most life-affirming, positive outcomes.
Everett Marshall is the Director of People, Performance and Culture for the Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. His passion is for helping people to develop strong connections and to improve interpersonal relationships and team productivity. He has over 20 years of management and consulting experience in both the public and private sectors. After serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy, he worked in the private sector with a global business consulting /IT services company focused on the development of recruiting and training programs. He has worked as a consultant to several federal agencies in the areas of organizational change, facilitation, team building, leadership coaching, and stakeholder engagement/alignment, and has also served as a federal employee during his tenure as the Director of Strategic Outreach for the US Naval Academy. Everett has been an active participant in the nonprofit sector, where he served as a past president of the Chesapeake Bay Organizational Development Network and the President of the Board for the St.Philips Family Life Center, Inc. He holds certifications as an Appreciative Inquiry Coach/Consultant, Licensed Human Element Practitioner TM , Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, and in the delivery of Emotional Intelligence Assessments. Everett is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT).
Everett created Forest TLC to help people establish a deeper connection to the natural world - and the healing, well-being and happiness it offers us!
Center for Organizational Excellence
Transcript Episode 8
Interview with Everett Marshall
Pamela Wirth: Hi Everett. Thank you. Great. Thank you. And I'm so excited for our listeners that you're joining us today to talk about your incredible work. I first heard about your work with appreciative inquiry and forest bathing when we had our first conference here in Sonoma County. And you were proposing to do a presentation and I thought what an exciting topic just to get us all on the same page, I am curious to hear a little bit about what is appreciative inquiry.
Everett Marshall: Sure, and that's a great place to start. So appreciative inquiry is, it's an approach to how organizations can really find those things that are positive and life-giving, and then as a way to use those things to help promote change in the organization is really where, where it got its start, and so the term appreciative inquiry really encompasses, so - The word appreciate has that meaning of, in one sense, we can appreciate something. So that's, that means we can see the value in it. And then there's another sense of that word where something appreciates in value, meaning it increases in value.
And that's really what we try and do when we use this as a methodology for helping organizational change is find those things. That are really important and positive and healthy in an organization that we do want to have more of a, generative experience with that we want to increase where those things are in the organization and really use them, perhaps in other areas of the organization that aren't as healthy, you know, so we can use those things that are strong to help us, perhaps in the places that, that are weaker. And the inquiry piece is really the way that we go about doing that.
This is based on asking questions is how we're going to uncover these life-giving forces, these positive aspects. So that inquiry piece is very important and a lot of the actual methodology for appreciative inquiry in the setting of when we use it for organizations is about how to actually ask questions in the right way, and structure those experiences to help people really uncover some of those, those things that we want more of.
Pamela: Yeah. Asking good questions. It's such an important aspect, and I can see maybe a connection already with the guided forest bathing walk where we put so much emphasis on the actual invitations that we say as guides.
Everett: Yes. I, I think that's very true. And that's when I, as I began to experience, our, approach to forest bathing, that, the association of nature and forest therapy guides and programs, teaches. That is one of the things that I really saw very early on as a very strong connection to the experience that I had now as a organization development practitioner and using appreciative inquiry in organizations. And you know, in appreciative inquiry, there's a notion that it's the questions that we ask that are fateful, and it's the questions that we ask that actually begin to create change. And I think that, when we experienced that on a walk with, with, council circles where you have an invitation, but then after the invitation the guide then has that ability to ask a question that can really help the people who are participating in the walk, more fully experience, what they've been, the experience that they've had, you know, kind of more fully connect to it. And it's the way that a guide asks questions, that's [00:04:00] more, inclusive and suggestive versus them being prescriptive that really helps participants and really experience the full force of a walk.
Pamela: What are some personal experiences on your walks that people are sharing?
Everett: Yeah. I think one of the things that I've found that people share when I've done walks with them, and it's really what, has been one of my biggest moments with forest therapy is the change in the relationship that you have with nature, with what us guides talk about, the more. than human world, all those other beings that you experience on a walk and one of the core principles of appreciative inquiry, which again, where I see so many strong similarities between that, approach and appreciative inquiry is both a philosophy, kind of a way of experiencing the world and a methodology.
But, you know, when I think about that, some of the principles that underlie appreciative inquiry one is a principle that talks about social construction, which is it's our language and the relationships that we have that really create our reality. one of the things that I experienced, that was such a big change for me on a walk is having that new relationship with the natural world around me and really changing the language I was using. I did, I have, you know, initially some, you know, some difficulty when I would hear some of our trainers on the guide programs say, “Yes, so as I was talking to my tree…” or you know, I was like. Really talking to, but then when you begin to embrace, not only embrace that language of, yes, I'm going to have a conversation with a tree, for instance, but then it's also that further step of then actually doing it and kind of actually, making that a reality and trying that out.
That begins to shift you're, you're reality with that, you know, and how you're experiencing it and you begin to experience nature in such a different way is, for me it was a change of, something that, you know, I would kind of use. And versus something that I could really connect with and something that there was some kind of a reciprocity with where, you know, I was able to actually be in relationship.
And I think that that principle is something that people that I've guided also comment on. It's like, wow, you know, the, when I began to change my language and actually. Do what some of the invitations describe, and change the way I was talking and interacting. They do have a much different actual, real experience with the natural world that we're going through.
Pamela: yeah, that makes so much sense. And I'm wondering what role or does gratitude and outright appreciation play a role In appreciative inquiry.
Everett: Oh, sure. you know, so I think, when we are looking for, again, those things that we want more of In appreciative inquiry.
It's the difference of kind of our traditional approach to trying to manage change and problems in an organization, which is, okay, let’s say, for instance, we have a group that's experiencing low morale, and we might go in traditionally and say, okay, tell us all the things that are limiting or decreasing morale in this organization. And that can be a valid discussion. But what tends to happen is, you know, people begin to, when you start to talk about all the things that are going poorly or bad, then that's where your energy goes and you tend to find more of that and you kind of get to get in this down spiral of just getting so immersed in all the things that aren't working well.
And then there might be some people who were, you know, initially thinking, well, it's not that quite bad. You know, my morale was kind of high. But then when you ask them that question, what's wrong with morale? Well, they're like, well, let me think about that and begin to think of stuff. Right? And I think when we have more of that spirit of what can, of gratitude, what should we be thankful for and what should we be appreciating?
Then that changes our language. And instead for that same group, we can ask them. What were the things that called you here in the first place? You know, what were the things that really inspired you about wanting to be here and have that conversation? Because then when you start to talk about those things and have that kind of a language, then that's where the energy goes.
And that's where you begin to say, wow, you know. This is what called me here. And yeah. And I do recall this, so I can reconnect with whatever the different things might be. And it's just that different approach, you know? So, I think having that spirit of gratitude and appreciating, you know, what can work is really sometimes a much more powerful place to help promote change, whether that's an appreciative inquiry setting where we might be trying to change something with a group or a team or an organization, or even on a walk, where, you know, one of the, I think real goals is to change our relationship with the natural world. and, and change our relationship with nature and have a deeper connection so we can get access to that in a new way.
And I think it, there's so many similarities and it really is, as you mentioned, it starts with that sense of appreciation and gratitude.
Pamela: That is so beautiful. I'm curious what brought you personally to this path of combining these two? I looked at your website and this is what you do. You are a forest therapy guide and you work in organizational development with, appreciative inquiry. It's very unusual
Everett: know. I think what brought me to to both is, as I've learned and grown myself, I really have, come to appreciate the power of relationship, in, you know, in our experience in, in the world.
And in a team setting, in an organizational setting, it's really the relationships that we have that help drive our success. We can have, be as strong as, you know, individual functioning as we want, but if our ability to relate with others is weak, then that hampers our ability to actually produce results.
and I think, the same, can be true for the relationships that we have with, with nature. For me it's been such a, I've, you can receive so much value, I think, from having that deeper actual relationship with nature versus, you know, that more superficial kind of casual relationship with nature.
So I've started to see where, it's really the power of relationship that can drive things. And so when I found appreciative inquiry, that was really a great tool that just naturally resonated with me. How I've always benefited most, it's when I've been able to be in a situation where I'm not dwelling on all the things that can go wrong and all the weaknesses, because when you think about the things that were weak in, there are a gajillion of them.
But when we focus on some of those real things that we're strong in. That's a smaller set, we can really get our arms around that. And that's some of the strength based approach to appreciative inquiry. But again, it's in the context of relationships. I remember one of the conversations we've had previously was about the difference of positive thinking versus appreciative inquiry and you know, there are definitely aspects of positive thinking, but positive thinking is much more of an internal individual thing, and it also doesn't have that aspect of asking questions of one another. So while it can be great and important in terms of helping to promote change, it's not the same as appreciative inquiry.
And I think, you know, just the parallels between a lot of the underlying principles of appreciative inquiry and what I've experienced in forest bathing is, again, it was one of those things where you're like, Oh, that really makes sense and it clicks and I can actually see how they contribute. So, in some of the groups that I've worked with, I've really tried to use the forest and when we're doing forest bathing we say, “The forest is the therapist and the guide opens the door.”, to open that door to them to really be able to, have that forest walk experience, help them with whatever change the group might be working with.
And the power of council circles for me has been so important, and also again, so congruent with appreciative inquiry because I find that on my walks, it's really sometimes in this council circle where people just feel the power of being witnessed and, you know, not have it to be a discourse back and forth, but just to be able to have a question posed to them and then a protected space, just be able to share what they're experiencing.
People find that so powerful and we try and create some similar moments during appreciative inquiry where you know, there's actual formal methodology that you can also go through when you're using appreciative inquiry in an organizational setting where you have structured discussions and interviews that lead into different things, but there are just so many parallels.
It just, it's one of those things that work, for me at least, it just clicked so well.
Pamela: and I just want to add for people who are listening to this, who might not have been on a guided walk yet. So the council circles are a typical component of a guided walk. It's when in between solo excursions along the path
we come back together for a brief check-in and everyone gets to share what we're noticing. So those are the, the council circles. And Everett,one of the principles that you talked about that I just found so beautiful and powerful, the heliotropic
Pamela: I just would love to invite you to talk a little bit about this.
Everett: Sure. Yeah, that's, that is really a great one. The heliotropic hypothesis is what that's called, and there are some core principles of appreciative inquiry, and this is one that, that, is, is very, it's supportive of some of those core principles.
And basically it says that in an organizational setting., organizations tend to want to reach for the most positive image that the organization has of itself. So organizations move towards the positive image or the light and yeah, I think so many times in nature, I'm always amazed by some of the things that we witness where we see what plants and what trees will do in their journey to reach the light. And sometimes it's growing through fences or growing through barriers that you might think, there's no way that this, this plant or this tree or this. It can get there, but they find a way. and I think, when we look at how our experience in the world, our experience with other people and our experience in our organizations. we draw a lot of parallels and a lot of lessons from nature itself. For me, that's always been such a powerful metaphor when you can say, they look at what some of these beings in nature are doing, these trees and plants, what they're doing on their journey.
How can we, kind of, take some motivation and borrow some of that energy in our own organizational quest to find the light. And I think that much like that's the natural tendency. Of, of plants and trees. That really is also the natural tendency for organizations to, even though organizations can face so many complex challenges, and sometimes it's very easy to get discouraged and lose sight of that.
But when we're able to remind people that, no matter what we might be experiencing - and it can be a wide range of challenges - Appreciative inquiry has been used for anything from, serious problems with gender discrimination in organizations to, really complex, difficult things to grapple with. Reminding people of our, natural inclination to want to move to someplace better and a more positive space.
Pamela: yeah. Thank you. And, before we close, I'd love to invite you to share with our listeners a simple thing that they can do right now to experience your teachings.
Everett: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I think a simple thing is really, having that appreciative eye. and this is something that's part of the philosophical aspect of appreciative inquiry, which is, there's always two sides when we're experiencing something and, we can look at the shadow side.
And we can, see, what that's all about. And so for instance, in that example of, an organization with low morale, we can make that choice to look at what's dragging us down. Or we can decide to have an appreciative eye and say, instead, let me inquire. And even if it's asking our own selves, through self-reflection or even, verbalizing it with others.
Let's flip that. Let's not dwell on the shadow side. Let's just start to have some discussion and dialogue and ask ourselves some questions about. What we're searching for. And what has worked for us in the past. So having an appreciative eye is what it's called, can just be a great little mental exercise to go through, to help access that.
And it can sometimes really lead to, some very, powerful, observations and things that we might not have been able to quite see before. Well, it can be challenging. We have real struggles. And if we allow ourselves to focus so much on the shadow versus really inquiring and asking and searching for the things that are more healthy, life giving and affirming, it's easy to get down or, flipping it around a little bit, access some things that are a little bit more motivational and powerful and inspiring.
Pamela: Well, thank you for that. I will apply my appreciative eye on the rest of today. It's morning here in California, and thank you.
Pamela: And where can people find you?
Everett: I have a website I use for a lot of my work with organizations where am trying to incorporate, nature and forest therapy into it.
And it's, www dot forest. Tlc.com LC for me, it stands for, tender loving care, which is kind of what we hope and we, people were experienced when they go on a walk and have access to all the things that are so helpful for health and wellbeing and an a positive experience.
And for some of my work with organizations around change, TLC, is that the liminal connection and that liminal space, which is that space where change can occur. So for me, it was like that double meaning, but yes, it's, www.forest TlC.com and, you can definitely access me there and, and leave a comment or see my email address on there as well.
Pamela: Okay, great. Everett, thank you so much for this conversation.
Everett: Oh, my pleasure. I enjoyed it.