Several years ago, I received an email that warmed my heart. A 70-something year old retiree sought me out via the internet to tell me about the “positive change” my grandfather had made in his life.

He had been from a low-income, immigrant family. Mid-way through his junior year in high school, my history teacher grandfather pulled him aside after class to ask what his plans were after graduation. He said he couldn’t afford to go to college, and that he would be looking for a job. My grandfather told him he seemed to be extremely bright and hard-working, and that he believed he ought to continue his education. “Grandpa” went on to recommend several schools and scholarships, and to write a personal recommendation to the Dean of Carnegie Mellon University – where my now-friend was eventually accepted. He graduated from the engineering program with honors, and went on to a long career with General Electric, from which he had recently retired.

My grandfather changed this man’s life by shining a light on his creative potential. @Leadershipfreak Dan Rockwell shares a similar story in his June 6, 2014 blog, How Two Conversations Changed a Life. In the book #AppreciativeLeadership, @DianaWhitneyPhD and I described this as the strategy of “illumination.”

These stories show that conversations matter: that we can change a life by calling attention to others’ strengths, and asking provocative, inspiring questions.

What conversations would matter most to the people around you? What hidden strengths might you illuminate, to bring out the best of people and situations?