This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Defining Appreciative Inquiry.

Many find Appreciative Inquiry transformative — changing the way our mind perceives the world. Choose one of these appreciative practices and try it once a day for a week. At the end of the week ask yourself, “How do I see the world differently?” Then continue the practice for two weeks.

1. Pause before acting

When you are at home tonight, pause and reflect for a moment before you interact. (If you live alone, pause and consider your time spent with yourself.)

What kind of interaction do I want to have with those at home?

Consider what kind of evening you want to have with others. Are your anticipated actions likely to support that kind of interaction you want to have, the kind of relationship you seek? (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 48)

2. Think about someone from different perspectives

Think about a family member — preferably a spouse, partner, child or someone with whom you live or work.

First, reflect on the things about that person that you would like to fix, change, or adjust in some way. Imagine trying to help them “be a better partner or person” by telling them how to fix or change those things you believe need fixing or changing.

Now answer these questions: How will they hear your suggestions? What will they experience? How does this thinking inform your relationship with them?

Now think about that same person. This time, reflect on the things about that person that you love, the things they do that warms your heart, the things you appreciate most about this person, the things he or she does really well. When is she/he at her/his best?

Imagine telling this person what you respect, admire, and understand about her/him at her/ his best. How will she/he hear these acknowledgments? What will she/he experience? How does this thinking inform your relationship with them? (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 48)

3. At the end of the day / work day

Ask yourself:
What was the best thing that happened to me today?
What did I notice or learn today?
What makes me feel really good about myself?
Try journaling the results for a week/month. At the end of the week/month look at how your journaling notes have changed.

3a. Reframe “What did you do today?”

What question are you asking your spouse or your children? Many parents ask their children, “What did you do in school today?” The typical response is “nothing.”

Reframe the question to “What was your favorite thing you did at work/in school today?” Note how the conversation changes.

4. Reframe a negative conversation

The Principle of Simultaneity states that the moment you inquire into something change begins to happen.

Try something new the next time you find yourself in a negative conversation, the kind where the other person is complaining about something or someone, where you both engage in the “isn’t that awful, and then what happened, and how could he” type of questioning. At an appropriate point in the conversation, say something like, “There must be something he does right.” Or, “what would you like to see happen instead?”

Once you ask such a question, watch how the flavor of the conversation improves, sometimes dramatically. Observe changes in the facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and language of the other person. Recognize how the relationship itself changes. (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 62)

5. Practice self-reflective awareness

Whether we want to or not, as relational beings, each of us impacts those around us in important ways. Our actions are part of creating and recreating our relationships with everyone everyday. The probability of any given outcome for those relationships is in part dependent upon us. Parker Palmer encourages us to “find our place in the ecosystem of reality, that we might see more clearly which actions are life-giving and which are not — and in the process participate more fully in our own destinies, and the destiny of the world.” — Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, p. 56

If our action makes someone’s day great, we are likely to have a very different interchange with her/him than if our action “gets her/him before she/he get us.”

The process of applying self-reflective awareness requires the following three steps:

  1. Pause for a moment, step back, and consider the actions you are about to take and accept responsibility for your part in the dynamics of your relationships with your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your community. Ask yourself, “How am I contributing to the situation?”
  2. Consider the likely impact of those actions on others. How are they likely to respond? What other possible actions might you take and with what consequences?
  3. Discover the meaning of your words and actions (as others understand them) by listening carefully and attending to what comes back to you — the responses from others to your actions.
    (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 45)

6. Invite your family or team to add a reflective evaluation at the end of every event or meeting.

Charting the results helps generate additional ideas. Write exactly what is said. Take action on the Deltas for your next meeting.

Plus/Delta. Think back over the time we spent together. To help improve our experience, would you explore with me what worked today? After we’ve considered what worked, we’ll list what we would do differently.

Plus: What worked today? Delta: What will we do differently next time? More about Plus/Delta →

For more about creating a learning organization, see Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Chapter 14: Strategies. 1. Integrating learning and working. New York: Doubleday.

7. Interview your family

Opening: I’m interested in what you think and have some questions I’d like to ask you. It will take about 20 minutes. Are you willing and when would be a good time?

Think about 2-3 people (other than your parents) who have had a very positive influence on your life. How did that influence occur? What did those people do?

What things do you appreciate most in your spouse?

Without being humble, what things do you value most about yourself as a human being, a friend, a citizen, and son/daughter?

When you are feeling best about your work, what do you value about the task itself?

What lifts your spirits and/or makes you feel glad to be alive?

How was the experience of this interview for you? In what way did it affect your mood or feelings? (Jeananne Oliphant in AI Newsletter)

7a. An interview for children or grandchildren

Opening: I’m interested in what you think and have some questions I’d like to ask you. This isn’t a test. There are no right or wrong answers. Whatever answer you give is fine and if you don’t have an answer that’s OK to.

What’s the best thing about being a kid?

What’s the name of one of your good friends? What do you like about him/her?

What do you like most about yourself?

What are parents supposed to do to raise good kids?

What’s best about grandparents?

What do you enjoy most at school?

How did you like doing this interview? (Jeananne Oliphant in AI Newsletter)

8. Close a team meeting with reflection

Ask one question about the team’s time together and invite each member to respond. Responses can be in 2-3 words. There are no right or wrong answers. Whatever answer you give is fine and if you don’t have an answer that’s OK to.

What was the best thing that happened to you today?

What did you notice or learn today?

What makes you feel really good about yourself?

9. Appreciative debrief of today’s meeting and meeting closure

Which part of today’s meeting most intrigued or engaged you?

What part of today’s meeting should we try to build on as we meet with others in the future?

What wishes do you have for the next time we meet?

10. Collaborative construction

Invite a conversation with your family or your colleagues at work. Consciously co-construct the “best possible day;” the best meeting your department has ever had, or the best class environment. Begin the meeting or the day by asking each person what would have to happen for this to be a great meeting or a great day. Then create a mutually agreed-upon plan so that all the ideas are incorporated and integrated. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1: One Saturday the family woke up and each person had something in mind that he or she wanted to do that day. The question posed to the whole family was: What would you each like to do today?

Dad: “I’d like to go running and get some exercise today.”

Adam (4 years old): “I’d like to go on a hike and use our new hiking sticks Dad made!”

Ally (6 years old): “I’d like to pick flowers.”

Mom: “I’d like us to eat a healthy breakfast and replace some of the dead greenery in our house.”

As they shared their images for a quiet Saturday morning looking for ways to make it work for everyone, the morning activity became clear. Ally finally suggested, “Let’s eat some healthy cereal, and grab our hiking sticks and I will share mine with mom because she does not have one and climb those hills behind the house where we can pick flowers and find mom those green things for her planters.” Their simple images and words became a fun-filled reality. They also changed the way the family related for the day, staying together and yet still meeting everyone’s interest.

Example 2: A group of colleagues working on a project came together for a planning meeting for the project. The question that initiated the meeting was, “What outcomes are we each hoping for in this meeting?”

Ben: “I’d really like dates to be set for each step in the project so we finish on time.”

Donna: “I’d like to be clear about exactly what my responsibilities are.”

Bob: “I’d like everyone to be clear about the budget.”

Patty: “I’d like it to end by 3 pm because I have another meeting to go to.”

The agenda was quickly outlined with times allotted for each item. Patty volunteered to be timekeeper and everyone agreed they wanted to be finished by 3 pm. They proceeded to move from item to item, achieved each of the desired outcomes, and ended just before 3 pm. (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 56–57)

11. BONUS: Reframing a problem

What’s going on at work that seems to have a negative frame or has been labeled “a problem”? Notice what you and others are focusing on around this issue. Look at the challenge again. This time identify the components or elements of the situation that are positive or are working. There must be at least one.

How might these elements be useful in moving forward?

What is it about that component that enables you and/or your work group to learn, succeed, and grow, even in small ways?

What in this situation can be utilized well?

If your work situation is influenced by someone you perceive to be a problem, identify his or her strengths (skills, behaviors, talents, passion, positive energy, and/or relationships). What is of greatest value and can be most appreciated about this person in relation to this situation?

How can you acknowledge these in a public way?

Does the person’s situation call for those strengths?

Is the person utilizing them? (Stavros and Torres, Dynamic Relationships, p. 68)

12. BONUS: Take a strength assessment

Free assessment is available at AuthenticHappiness.com or purchase the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Use the pass code on the inside of the book cover to take the Strengths Finder assessment.

Take your top five strengths and find a way to use at least one of them every day, in a new way. If you are strong on “love of learning,” do some extra reading about the latest trends in your business, or the history of your profession. If you are strong on loving and social intelligence, reach out more directly to co-workers who are going through a hard time. Give yourself small challenges related to your strengths and you’ll have the frequent rewards of progress and gratitude. (From Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom.)

Invite your family or staff to each take the Strengths Finder and share the results.

Resources

Don Clifton and Paula Nelson (1992). Soar with Your Strengths: A simple yet revolutionary philosophy of business and management. New York: Dell Trade Paperback.

Jonathan Haidt (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

Jackie Kelm (2005). Appreciative Living: The principles of Appreciative Inquiry in personal life. Venet. Additional readings are available at appreciativeliving.com.

Tom Rath (2007). Strengths Finder 2.0: A new & upgraded edition of the online test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Gallup Press.

Martin Seligman (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Martin Seligman (1998). Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Free Press.

Jacqueline Stavros and Cheri Torres (2005). Dynamic Relationships: Unleashing the power of Appreciative Inquiry in daily living. Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Taos Institute Publications.

Diana Whitney, David Cooperrider, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Brian S. Kaplin (2001). Encyclopedia of Positive Questions Volume I : Using Appreciative Inquiry to bring out the best in your organization. Euclid, OH: Lakeshore Communications.