Appreciative Inquiry: Are You Asking The Right Questions?

Appreciative Inquiry Right Questions

What gets you out of bed each morning? And what lights you up and makes you feel most alive?  How often do you really ask yourself these questions?  Or take the time to ask them of others? If your answer is “not often” you’re in good company, but what might start happening if you do appreciative inquiry?

“When we ask these types of questions something magical happens,” explained Jon Berghoff, from the Flourishing Leadership Institute, when I interviewed him recently.  “You discover you have the capability and potential to positively shape your future in ways you never thought possible.”

Jon has been asking Appreciative Inquiry questions such as these to help others discover what causes the human systems they are part of – such as a team, company or community – to come alive faster, to be at their best, to play to their strengths, to drive innovation from all levels within and from outside, and to naturally cultivate a deeper sense of purpose.

But why do these questions make this kind of magical change possible?

When it comes to creating changes, it can be easy to focus on what’s wrong, what’s missing, what’s not working and what needs fixing.  And while it might be a helpful way to understand how you got to where you are, it’s not necessarily a great way to create the energy, buy-in and momentum that you may need to get to where you want to go now.

However, when we ask Appreciative Inquiry questions they don’t ignore the problems but do use a different lens to work with them.  So rather than getting stuck on what’s broken, they reframe your questions to focus on what you value, want to grow and what you’re willing to take responsibility for making happen.

Related: Who Are You? based on Your Answer to The World’s Greatest Philosophical Questions?

Appreciative Inquiry uses a simple 4D cycle to guide these questions

 – discover, dream design, deploy – and create changes that last.  For example by:

Discovering stories of what happens when you feel most alive, engaged and proud of your work helps create the confidence and momentum that unleashes higher levels of performance. You might ask: “When you feel engaged, energized and enjoying life, what’s happening? “

Dreaming vivid positive images of your future can pull you forward with optimism, hope, and motivate you to take positive action. You might ask: “If you could do what you’ve just described more consistently, what might be possible as you look ahead?

Design invites you to create multiple pathways to turn your dreams into reality by identifying and prioritizing ways to move from where you are right now, to where you want to be. You might ask: “How can you move from where you are right now, to where you want to be? “

Deploy invites people to volunteer to take responsibility for the changes they feel passionate enough to put into action. You might ask: “If there was one action you could take, where would you be willing to start?” 

Appreciative Inquiry: Are You Asking The Right Questions?
Appreciative Inquiry: Are You Asking The Right Questions?

You can ask these questions of yourself, a colleague, an entire team or even a whole organization or community. For example, Appreciative Inquiry is what’s helping the City of Cleveland become a ‘thriving green city on a blue lake’.  Their three day Appreciative Inquiry Summit brought together hundreds of people from all walks of life – local neighbourhoods, business leaders, nonprofits, government, universities, religious leaders, and schools – to discover how they could leverage off their assets and overcome challenges, to deliver economic, social and environmental wellbeing for all their citizens.

Related: Is It Solitude or Loneliness?: 4 Questions to Help You Tell 

As a result, they’re transforming their city through such things as energy efficiency measures, creating urban farms, and promoting healthier ways to get around.

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Michelle McQuaid

Dr. Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she’s passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. An honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, she blogs for Psychology Today, hosts the top-rated weekly podcast Making Positive Psychology Work, and her work has been featured in Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, Boss Magazine, The Age and more. She holds a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and has completed a PhD in Appreciative Inquiry under the supervision of David Cooperrider. Michelle lives to help people discover their strengths, move beyond their fears, and finally discover what it truly takes to flourish with confidence.View Author posts