John Paul Stephens

Toward a pedagogy of connection: A critical view of being relational in listening

Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) perspectives define interpersonal work experiences such as positive work relationships and high-quality connections by the mutual growth and empowerment experienced by relationship or connection partners. Listening has been implicated as a key mechanism for building such positive interpersonal work experiences, but it is unclear how listening spurs on mutual, rather than one-sided growth, in relationship and connection partners. In this paper, we argue that management education currently focuses on the intrapersonal capability of listeners to execute key verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Less emphasis is placed on the mutual experience co-created between speaker and listener and, thus, on the potential for mutual growth and empowerment. We articulate what “being relational” in the listening experience means, and use experiential learning theory to articulate how educators might create learning spaces for “being relational” through conversations between listener and speaker. Throughout the paper we contend with issues of individual and structural power asymmetries inherent in understanding listening as a relational process.

Jo Sundet

Scholar presenter:

Jo Sundet, BI Norwegian Business School

Seed generators:

John Paul (JP) Stephens, Case Western Reserve University
Bess Rouse, Boston College


We work where they live: On the ritualizing of high-quality connections in a nursing home

Talk description:

This is early stage research and will be the third paper in my PhD, which focuses on how we create and sustain high-quality connections with others at work. It focuses on a core group of co-workers in a nursing home that was identified, by the parent organization, as a place where relationships between staff were of a high-quality. At this stage, I am leaning into theory on interaction rituals and the high-quality connections literature.

Research is the heart of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), and we want to make sure that we support each other in developing high quality research. To that end, we created the Adderley Positive Research Incubator for sharing and encouraging POS-related research ideas that are at various stages of development.

Learn more about the Adderley Positive Research Incubator here and direct questions about individual sessions to

Research Handbook on Organizational Resilience

This Research Handbook identifies how resilience has evolved as a critical theoretical concept in the organizational sciences. International resilience scholars conceptualize and explore the various ways resilience can be embedded in theory and practice, offering new and updated perspectives on the importance of resilience in multiple contexts.

Sections cover the nature of resilience at employee, team and organizational levels; the processes and dynamics of resilience in different contexts; and the antecedents and outcomes of these forms of resilience. Chapters provide case studies and theoretical frameworks to bring clarity, covering stress and coping, diversity and resilience, crisis management, employee behaviour, continuity and development.

Organizational studies scholars interested in advancing theory and practice of resilience will find this Research Handbook includes a range of important considerations for the field. With application of several different levels of analysis, chapters discussing stress and coping will also appeal to those from a social psychology background.


  • Edward H. Powley, Graduate School of Defense Management, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
  • Brianna Barker Caza, Bryan School of Business and Economics, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, US
  • Arran Caza, Bryan School of Business and Economics, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, US


  • Elena Antonacopoulou, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • Scott Baker, BetterUp, United States
  • Mehri E. Baloochi, University of Manitoba, Canada
  • Michelle A. Barton, Bentley University, United States
  • Thomas E. Becker, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, United States
  • Thomas W. Britt, Clemson University, United States
  • Kim S. Cameron, University of Michigan, United States
  • Arran Caza, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Brianna Barker Caza, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Julie Chesley, Pepperdine University, United States
  • Lisa Jones Christensen, Brigham Young University, United States
  • Marlys K. Christianson, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Victoria D’Avella, Pepperdine University, United States
  • Samantha E. Erskine, Case Western Reserve University, United States
  • Maria Laura Frigotto, University of Trento, Italy
  • Franck Guarnieri, MINES Paris-Tech, France
  • Scott C. Hammond, Utah State University, United States
  • Jared Harris, University of Virginia, United States
  • Silja Hartmann, Technische Universität München, Germany
  • Morela Hernandez, University of Virginia, United States
  • Megan Hess, Washington and Lee University, United States
  • Martin Hoegl, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
  • Erika Hayes James, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, United States
  • Erica M. Johnson, Case Western Reserve University, United States
  • Jean D. Kabongo, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, United States
  • Dimitrios Karolidis, University of Macedonia, Greece
  • Sophie A. Kay, Georgia Institute of Technology, United States
  • D. Christopher Kayes, The George Washington University, United States
  • Joana Kuntz, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Merilee Larsen, Utah Valley University, United States
  • Martina Linnenluecke, Macquarie University, Australia
  • Sanna Malinen, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Courtney L. McCluney, Cornell University, United States
  • Brent McKnight, McMaster University, Canada
  • Kelsey L. Merlo, University of South Florida, United States
  • Katharina Näswall, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Lukas Neville, University of Manitoba, Canada
  • Venkataraman Nilakant, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Mara Olekalns, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Edward H. Powley, Naval Postgraduate School, United States
  • Sebastian Raetze, Technische Universität Dresden, Germany
  • Laura Morgan Roberts, University of Virginia, United States
  • Gargi Sawhney, Auburn University, United States
  • John Paul Stephens, Case Western Reserve University, United States
  • Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Johns Hopkins University, United States
  • Sébastien Travadel, MINES Paris-Tech, France
  • Fotis Vouzas, University of Macedonia, Greece
  • Bernard Walker, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • Matthias Weiss, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
  • Lynn Perry Wooten, Simmons University, United States
  • Jeewhan Yoon, Korea University, South Korea


‘Tune in. Don’t tune out,” John Paul (J.P.) Stephens urges in LSE Business Review article

Center for Positive Organizations (CPO) Research Advisory Board member John Paul (J.P.) Stephens writes about global fragmentation in the LSE Business Review article “How the show goes on in time of injustice, violence, and pandemic.”

Stephens urges people feeling blame, anxiety, and fear amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police brutality and racism to: “Tune in. Don’t tune out.”

“We seem to be locked into an ‘us vs. them’ dynamic along so many dimensions of our current existence, entrenched in sacrificing collective interests for individual ones,” Stephens writes.

He taps his ethnographic research on coordination in a large community choir to explain how aesthetics, emotions and attention can help individuals recalibrate their actions to create harmony amongst the collective.

“Paying attention to both our local and global concerns simultaneously can help change our perception and the motivation to collaborate effectively,” Stephens writes.

Stephens is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. His research focuses on the experience of work relationships and the coordination that these relationships enable.

Sharing experiences and emotions amidst racial unrest

This is a tragic and challenging time as our society reckons with race. The speed of events, the emotional intensity and complexity of the issue of race, and the accelerant of social media and digital communication left us disoriented and overwhelmed. As friends, we wondered: how does one orient, process, and take action amidst the rapid, unfolding, and swirling deluge of information, story, symbol, data, and emotion?

We offer a simple framework that we and others have found useful to facilitate listening, thinking, and acting. This is not a framework centered on race, but rather a framework to make sense of the flow and flux of recent events and ultimately take effective action.

This framework emerged from our recent conversations. We are both professors of organizational behavior, investigate the role of lived experience in organizing, and are “nephew” and “uncle” in academic lineage through our doctoral mentors. Amongst our many identities, Doug is white, American, male, and straight. JP is Afro-Caribbean, greencard holder, male, and gay. These similarities and differences spurred conversation and a framework we hope is generative.

Four Worlds

There are at least four different realities or “worlds” at play right now: the world of social structure, the world of culture, the world of data, and the world of lived experience.

  • The world of structure is the world of relationships, ties, exchanges, rules, laws, systems, and the like. When we speak about “defunding the police” we are in the world of structure.
  • The world of culture is the world of symbol, story, ritual, practice, values, shared interpretations, norms, and the like. When we speak about “kneeling” or the label “Black Lives Matter” we are in the world of culture.
  • The world of data is the world of verbatim responses, numbers, first hand accounts, data, and the like. When we speak about “likelihood of being assaulted” we are in the world of data.
  • The world of lived experience is the world of subjective reality, feeling, emotion, personal narrative, and first hand visceral reality. When we speak about “the time I was pulled over and ongoing feelings of threat” we are in the world of lived experience.

These worlds sometimes overlap, sometimes reinforce, sometimes come into conflict, have different languages, work in different ways, and operate according to different principles. Each of these worlds are “lenses” and showcase some truths, raise some questions and not others, and point to some answers and not others.

Problems can occur when we start to equate one world with the other. For instance, voting can solve for the world of structure, but it does not immediately speak to the world of lived experience. Educating oneself about data is useful, but does not speak to forming new and better cultural materials like shared narratives and rituals.

Starting with The World of Lived Experience

Which world should one prioritize? Answers to this question will vary depending on the time, audience, expertise, and numerous other factors. More can be done in each world.

For us, we believe the world of lived experience is a very generative starting point. Our own lived experience is something we all have access to in equal measure.

Of course, the tricky thing about the world of lived experience is that it is necessarily personally lived and subjective. As a white man, Doug cannot fully understand what JP’s experience is like as a black man living in the United States. At the same time, JP cannot fully understand what it means to grow up as a white man in the Midwest.

One bridge to connect different lived experiences regarding race is universal emotions. As we think about emotion, every human, regardless of background, has felt joy, disappointment, fear, awe, beauty, and anger. While we cannot fully understand the lived experience of someone from another race, we can both imagine and recall moments of emotions that can accompany and constitute experiences around race. We both can imagine and recall emotions such as feeling less than, of not belonging, of threat, and of rage. The sources, causes, and intensity of such feelings may not be the same for Doug as they are for JP. But as human beings first and foremost, we are designed to share in them and can develop common ground and empathy.

Attending to emotion by listening – reading and hearing the firsthand accounts of one another – and imagining – vicariously feeling each other’s lived emotional experience – can move us closer to solidarity, empathy, compassion, and support. Attending to emotion, involves the heart more than the head. It requires courage, empathy, vulnerability, imagination, safety, correct timing, and much more.

Emotion is a starting point for our own experience, but also can be a basis for shared experience. Today, there is anger and grief on the streets. And rightly so. There are also emotions of hope, of oneness, of redemption, of forgiveness, and of inspiration. The streets are one place where solidarity in emotional exchange is being built. There is, however, so much potential in personal meditation, reading, watching, and conversing to vicariously feel theses emotions in one another’s subjective experience. In particular, as theorists have long maintained, ritual sharing of emotions facilitates cooperation and solidarity, and strengthens collective identity amongst other outcomes.

The more we vicariously live another’s emotions in our own experience, the greater the likelihood of shared emotion and solidarity with one another.

As you move forward, consider disentangling these different worlds. Ask yourself what world are you engaging in, how each world is interacting with other worlds, what world do you want to prioritize, and the actions necessary to improve each world. Each of us has a unique role to play to realize equal justice when it comes to race in America. Each of these worlds must be engaged if we are to make progress.

This article was originally published on the High Quality Connections website.