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.