Bonding Over The Good And True And Beautiful


Written by Scott Schimmel

If you have the opportunity to spend five minutes around a group of students, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear quite a bit of complaining. They’ll complain about pretty much everything, almost like it’s a sport. I’m sitting a few feet away from a group of high school students right now at a coffee shop. Here’s what I’ve heard in the past three minutes:

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe my teacher made me take notes on the entire chapter.”

“You were in the yearbook so much last year, I wasn’t in it at all.”

“My parents won’t even let me drive to school anymore. They’re so mean.”

“I can’t believe the WiFi sucks so bad in here.”

There’s a whole lot of criticizing, whining, grumbling, and crankiness. If I didn’t know any better, I might think that their lives are incredibly hard, taxing and stressful. But I know better. They’re complaining and criticizing because that’s the way they know how to connect with each other.

For better or worse, complaining and criticizing is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break the ice and form new friendships. It’s a really simple way to bond with someone––and it’s actually not much different than what happens in office environments with adults twice their age. When people share a difficult experience together, there’s a natural response to complain in a cathartic moment. It’s bonding.

But, friendships that are formed out of negativity stay stuck in a cycle of negativity and darkness. Do you really want to form and build relationships like that? There’s got to be a better way.

The better way could simply be labeled as focusing on the positive, or to use an academic term, Appreciative Inquiry. AI is a process formed in the 1980’s and used in organizations to facilitate strengths-based change. It’s a great mindset for relationships and conversations.

Appreciative Inquiry is a focus on the good, the true, and the beautiful. It’s about actively seeking, through questions, what is really positive and focusing on those areas. Rather than complaining or criticizing the negatives, AI leads people to focus time, energy and resources around the positive efforts and invest their time in what’s working. It’s the best mindset for starting and building good friendships. When people are seeking out the good and noticing the true and beautiful, there’s a pure and pleasing tone to their conversations and a strong foundation for a good relationship.

There might be awful things happening, difficult people around or stressful situations that give good reason to complain or criticize. But when this happens, people need to be aware of their feelings, accept them and deal with them maturely and appropriately.


If you choose to focus on the negative in your conversations, don’t be surprised if you friendships are stuck in a cycle of gloom and bitterness.


Here are a few Appreciative Inquiry conversation starters to change the tone of your conversations:

 What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in the past few days?

 Which class/client do you like the best?

 What are you excited about this weekend?

What are you looking forward to?

 Do you have any fun plans after school/work?

 If you had a day to do whatever you want, what would you do?