How to Apply Appreciative Inquiry
As coaches, we hear this term a lot: appreciative inquiry. It is pretty common to see this referred to as AI but regardless of how it is displayed, it is really common to hear that even some experience coaches do not have a working understanding of the term. Let’s look at ways we can understand appreciative inquiry better so that we can be a better service to our clients.
Origins of Appreciative Inquiry in Coaching
Appreciative inquiry (AI) is a construct of coaching that is borrowed from sources that may surprise you, as its roots are in organizational leadership. Large companies, such as Merck or British Airways have used AI to approach organizational change. In these settings, AI is viewed as a positive approach to improving leadership in its ability to foster strategic innovation.
But as coaches, early pioneers found that its application was useful in coaching sessions, too. This is because we spend a lot of time working with our clients to build up their confidence to make a change, often sometimes against ambivalence and reluctance or absolute denial or refusal. What do we do when a client can’t have the confidence to change? We look to their strengths and we highlight them by shining an intelligent and informed light on what we can learn from our clients. AI is used in sessions by coaches who seek to help a client develop a strategic vision. We all know how important vision is in coaching!
This means that we have to sometimes work backward. We explore our clients’ backgrounds and mine for success stories that we can highlight.
In our discussions with clients in the early phases of coaching, we mind for information and ask questions. Beyond icebreaking and building rapport, there is a specific reason for this. Sometimes we call this a “doing skill” when we listen for the many ideas our client will offer up while we are practicing active listening. We are dialed into their strengths, we will then use them later to bolster our plans with their success from past events in their lives.
What is Appreciative Inquiry?
At its core, AI is an approach for motivating transformation, while enhancing well-being. Using 5 unique principles, AI emphasizes the exploration of success stories in our client’s life. It amplifies the ideal situations our client has lived through and in this best of appreciation, we benefit from including the use of AI fundamentals in conjunction with positive psychology and coaching.
AI is all about celebrating the client and therefore does not focus on fixing problems our client has. Instead, using AI encourages clients to reflect on possibilities and positive affirmations. Since we are working to build confidence with our clients, we tap into these positive emotions and allow the client to reveal their own best collection of stories to boost confidence to change.
The constructionist principle is the first of five principles tied to AI.
It states that reality, as we know it, is a subjective (not objective) state and is socially created through language and conversations.
The simultaneity principle relates to one thing leading to another, so to speak. In other words, the moment we question something that could be, we are beginning to allow a pathway to create a transformation or change.
Within the description of the poetic principle, things are a bit more abstract. Clients are seen as open books and represent endless sources of study and learning. Even what we choose to study makes a difference because it describes and creates the world and the lived experience.
The anticipatory principle is tied more closely to the client’s vision. Clients looking to make changes will need to move in the direction of their vision for the future. The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present-day action.
The positivity principle is based on the belief that positive energy and emotions prevent disrupting negative thinking or actions while boosting the hopes and aspirations of our clients. This allows for positive energy and emotions to open up limited beliefs and expand awareness, and mindfulness, increase abilities, build resiliency, offset negative energy and promote new possibilities. This allows for growth and learning.
When a client can see the need to feel successful in some parts of their life, other aspects of their life can become positively charged, resulting in positive outcomes. Positive energy is the only way to overcome the negative energies from within our clients. Transformation requires sufficient force to transform systems and propel them in new directions. At best, such root-cause analyses will only correct the problems. At worst, they will cause a downward spiral.
What are the 4 key stages of an Appreciative Inquiry interview?
There is also what is known as a “4-D cycle” of AI
In the discovery phase, the coach works to find examples of when your client has been at their best in terms of creativity and positive affirmations, and then identify the common factors in their stories.
In the dream phase, the coach gets their client thinking about what an ideal scene of life would look like: how would behaviors, the environment, etc., change? We want to guide our clients through work that creates a vision of an invigorating and inspiring future. It has to be something they truly want.
Once your client has a clear vision for their future, the next phase will lead them as they design their future. What steps are needed today, to reach their goals or vision? In the design phase, you get as strategic and tactical as possible, creating different models and outcomes for your client’s future. This includes your strategy of mapping steps, identifying required resources, and engaging the support of others.
Finally, in the destiny phase, your client will work to implement your coaching design, to make their vision a reality and positive outcome.
We can use the principles and 4-D model of appreciative inquiry to not only elevate our skills as coaches, but we can also provide better outcomes and service to our clients. When reputation matters – and is usually correlated with results – this all seems to matter a lot more. Learn more about the application of appreciative inquiry in programs like our Master Health and Wellness Coach certification from The Spencer Institute.
Where Can You Learn More?
Spencer Institute and NESTA are here to guide each step of the process. Be sure you take advantage of our course, programs, CEUs, and career training opportunities. Be on the lookout for future articles about more ways to get an endless stream of clients for your training or coaching business. You will also want to search through the archives of our blog because there are many other articles that go into great depth about dozens of other ways to get clients.
Here are a few for you to checkout now:
- How to Break into Corporate Wellness & Create Impactful Programs
- Helping Ambivalent Clients Using Motivational Interviewing
- Using Coaching Skills to Overcome Client Ambivalence
- 7 Reasons You Might Not be Selling Your Coaching Sessions
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