How Meaningful Alignment and Appreciative Embodying are Bedfellows with Susan Steinbrecher

How Meaningful Alignment and Appreciative Embodying are Bedfellows with Susan Steinbrecher

What follows is a summary of a most practical conversation on meaningful alignment where we talk about concepts such as the inner game and self-regulation. We focus on interpersonal dialogue preferences and the promising outcomes we can aspire to if we learn how to embody meaningful alignment. We reflect on how we get through to people to listen to what their bodies and emotions are telling them so they can cultivate caring relationships with themselves and others.

Table of Contents

Introducing Susan Steinbrecher

meaningful alignment author
Susan Steinbrecher

Susan Steinbrecher is the author of three books. She writes for and has been cited in well-known publications both online and in print. Her most recent book, co-authored with Robert Schafer, Meaningful Alignment, Mastering Emotionally Intelligent Interactions At Work and In Life is the focus of this conversation. Her second book, Heart-Centered Leadership Lead Well Live was the focus of a previous podcast episode.

Susan offers a holistic perspective, honoring all of who we are – warts and all. Her teachings and practices in leadership and organization development include a vast array of disciplines, methods, social theories and tools. Her work intersects and aligns closely with my current inquiry into appreciative embodying. There is clear valuing of the multi-beings that we are, and acknowledgement that we are designers of our lives and co-creators in how our relationships develop.

Growing up with six older siblings, Susan experienced chaos and struggle in family communications. She found herself helping establish connection, encourage alignment and reach a place of resolution amid the differences and the confusion in family dynamics.

Moving Beyond Gaining Alignment to Meaningful Alignment

meaningful alignment conversation

I invited Susan to explain the significance of the book title, especially the notion of meaningful alignment. To quote Susan Steinbrecher:

To me alignment is how do we align, come to some kind of a consensus even if even if we don't fully agree, but we're able to move forward and align and get on the same page with another individual, both personally and professionally. So in the workplace it could be a peer to peer where there's no formal power one over another.

The meaningful part was critical because it really was about how do you come to be fully present, fully engaged, honestly wanting to clearly hear this other person's perspective and viewpoint. Not Coming in with an agenda to win the argument or convince somebody to do something, but to truly come into that interaction: "I want to, I want this to be a meaningful dialogue. I want us to engage together. I want us to clearly express our viewpoint and at the same time feel very heard. "

So it's not just gaining an alignment; it's a meaningful alignment. A meaningful alignment aims to preserve or enhance relationships at the same time.

The Meaningful Alignment Process

meaninful alignment process
Meaningful Alignment Model

The Meaningful Alignment Process is a six step map that aligns an individual's interpersonal dialogue style and outlines in clear detail how to start the conversation all the way to how to end it while appreciating your emotional map along the way.

There are roles in organizations where engaging with others may be perceived as not requiring frequent interpersonal communication. Yet, there's bound to come a time when it's necessary to influence, negotiate, persuade somebody to a course of action. It might be to gain more money in a budget to get something approved. It might be, that unless "I have the approval or support of a certain individual or group, I won't be able to move forward."

The authors have created an instrument, Interpersonal Dialogue Profile (links below) and Susan's company offers workshops to teach the value and process of meaningful alignment. In teaching the mindset and skills of meaningful alignment, the authors present two key processes.

1. The Inside Game – What's going on inside the body

When we talk about the inside game, we're talking about what is going on inside our bodies. It's our inner emotional experience that underly our physical sensations as we prepare for interactions. How might emotional composure and resilience be cultivated when most likely very different emotions are being felt? Susan:

So we teach people how to contain that emotional compulsion and build resilience over time proactively. Such as "how do I build a reserve of strength for when I need it?" And, the reality is often: "I might be in the middle of a conversation and I feel myself getting really upset. What can I do at that very moment to calm my nervous system down."

2. The Outside Game – What behaviors reveal competence

The outer game covers the other side of the equation: how to engage in the actual process of conversation. It addresses the shift in moving from the emotional domains of the brain to the planning domain of the brain in order to initiate the conversation. Susan:

[People report] "I don't know how to start this. I don't know what it looks like. And not only while I'm navigating that conversation, how do I handle my own emotional composition resilience through it, but how do I start to facilitate and or manage the emotion of the other person?"

So they're starting to get upset and what do you do? And more times than not, I find people add more fuel to the fire and escalate the negative response or the emotional intensity from the other person. … [they] do so by their actions or their choice of words or their body language or their inner child, or all those things add to the equation.

How does Appreciative Embodying Align?

appreciative embodying
Photographer: Ava Sol | Source: Unsplash


The first place to look when an emotional charge is ignited is inward. It's often not about the other person, but something is triggered in you and taking ownership for that. If you accept the only thing you can really control is your emotional reaction then you have the power to take responsibility, own it and change it. It is far easier said than done. So that's why investing in training is worth while.

Learning to pay attention to your feelings is the first step in growing your self-awareness. This includes self-compassion, self-kindness and forgiveness.


Seeing oneself in potential scenarios and imagining playing them out is a way to embody feelings, movement, dialogues and be present to how others are likely to show up. By putting oneself into the characters of their story, feeling the characters’ emotions and anticipating the possible reactions is excellent preparation on the path to meaningful alignment.

Mindfulness Meditation

This process provides the opportunity to shift emotions and thoughts as often as needed, and with ease, and naturally. Mindfulness meditation introduces the notion of paying attention to the here and now through the senses. It invites the opportunity to be present to sounds, feelings, images in the mind's eye, to tastes and smells. It enables connection with breath and heart in real time.

Examples of Appreciative Embodying

The book, Meaningful Alignment features a story about an executive, Carl who's on the brink of breakdown. It opens with Carl having a beautiful dream, in a beautiful environment, feeling tranquil and filled with joy. It is a whole-body experience of what it's like when we’re being good to ourselves and to others. The alarm clock cruelly awakens him from his dream.

The day starts. There is the usual craziness to get the family ready for work and school. During his drive to the office, he thinks about some health scares he's been made aware of. His tension increases so he can't help but pay attention what he is experiencing in his body. In the traffic, the the tears well up and there's the sense of fear and anger that overtakes his sadness. He can't understand why, yet he can feel his heart pumping hard, and his breath is short. He remembers to breathe.

Attending to Multiple Manifestations of Stress

We can all relate to Carl's story. It's such a relatable universal story. Stress is felt in all areas of the entire body from the crown of the head to the tip of the toes. You feel powerless and trapped. There is a pattern. The common denominator across the multiple manifestations of stress and anxiety is that people are lacking the emotional resilience and the perseverance and tenacity to get through the stress and the tough times.

When you begin to pay attention to what your body tells you, you have the opportunity to make changes to improve your well-being that connects health and attitude, improves relationships and offers kindness to self and others.

Simple and shared strategies we have been curating throughout this season on Appreciative Embodying include, in addition to the above, getting out in nature, taking a walk, stretching, staying hydrated, journaling, doing something different to break state. Getting out of your head through movement helps create a space for you to do something that's going to help you, and enhance your ability to interact more positively with others.

Connect to Susan

Links to Resources – Book and Articles

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