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Words create worlds: How to gain perspective with Appreciative Inquiry

The language we use is powerful. It frames our thinking and encourages beliefs that may or may not always be helpful to us or others. Here, Beverly Landais explores Appreciative Inquiry as a technique to help you deal with the challenges of modern life more successfully. 

Appreciative Inquiry is a questioning technique that encourages an appreciative gaze on the best of past and present positive experiences. This approach aims to enable people to access their strengths, resources and insights, thus becoming better equipped to deal with current or future challenges and pursue their goals more successfully.  

The technique of Appreciative Inquiry began as a change management approach developed in the 1990s by Dr David Cooperrider. The work done by Dr Cooperrider provides a straightforward methodology for dealing more effectively with the uncertainty caused by change. The approach encourages us to reflect on what we can do rather than dwell on what we can’t do. The result is improved self-awareness, stronger self-efficacy, and personal resourcefulness. We become more resilient because we learn how to apply strengths-based strategies in different situations. 

The method is equally suitable for organisational settings and helpful for self-coaching. This style of questioning and exploring the answers can enhance the performance of high-functioning teams and help teams that experience conflict. It creates an environment for ‘conversations worth having’.

As a self-coaching technique, the approach is helpful for self-esteem building as it highlights your skills, capabilities and strengths. Purposefully recalling good experiences can make you stronger and able to deal with new challenges. It reminds you that you are a resourceful, capable person who has succeeded in the past and can succeed again.

Practising the technique can motivate you to continue or build new helpful habits. Our behaviour is the result of our beliefs. Our habits form from our routine and are often an automatic response to certain situations or people. The result is succinctly expressed by Dr Cooperrider, who says, “We live in the worlds our conversations create.”

Here are some sample Appreciative Inquiry questions to help you explore the technique:

  • Tell me about some of the high-point experiences you have had in your life.
  • What is it like when you feel alive and engaged in what you do?
  • When you are at your best, what do you most value about yourself?
  • What are some of the highlights that you have experienced in life?
  • What or who inspires you? 
  • Thinking of a time when you overcame a challenge, which skills, capabilities and resources did you use?  
  • How might you tap these skills, capabilities and resources to support you now? 
  • What might be the first step to reach your goal? 

You can use Appreciative Inquiry to frame complex issues to gain perspective and mindfully consider all your options. Here’s a step-by-step process: 

  • Step 1. Name it. What is the problem, complaint or thing you don’t want?
  • Step 2. Flip it. What is the positive opposite – the thing you want?
  • Step 3. Frame it. What is the positive impact if the flip were true? What might be the desired outcome?
  • Step 4. Forward it. What is one thing you can do today to move towards what you want?

Try it for yourself and see the difference this approach can make in successfully handling challenging situations. 

Beverly Landais is a Professional Certified Coach with a senior business background. She works with people and teams to enable them to be at their resourceful best. Contact Beverly about coaching by emailing her at connect@beverlylandais.co.uk

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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