How Coaching Works: Appreciative Inquiry
Updated: Oct 12
Ten years ago, we released a movie titled “How Coaching Works” as a way to explain coaching, using an animated cartoon. Now viewed over 1.5 million times, this blog series aims to share the psychological underpinnings of the cartoon.
Tell me about your day yesterday.
Really – take a moment and write down what happened yesterday. I’ll be here when you are finished…
Now, tell me about the best part of your day yesterday. Write about your best memory of yesterday.
Next, take a look at both of your responses. What do you notice? What are the differences between the two?
If you are like most of us, your first answer was a list focused on the craziness of the day – a hurried, breathtakingly-busy list which included highlights of the annoying or frustrating elements. The first answer usually includes information, but not details, about the day.
Did the best part of your day even make it onto that list? It’s not likely.
The second question was called an “appreciative inquiry”; a question that may have inspired you to think differently about your experience with the world. Rather than following our natural tendency to focus on all that is wrong with our day, a simple shift in words can change our focus. You may have even noticed a difference in how you felt when you considered the best part of your day. Many experience a greater sense of calm or joy, for example, that isn’t felt when only recalling what happened during the day.Because what we focus on grows, coaches encourage clients to look first to the things that are right with their world. The second question may have supported you in savoring that “best experience.” Savoring experiences, positive psychologist have learned, is one key to happiness.
This reminds me of the quote a colleague has on her wall, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Our days get lost and forgotten in the blur of activities, unless we pause to savor the moments. When we look at our lives appreciatively, we are better able to find the beauty in them, even amidst the inevitable chaos; we leverage our strengths to face our challenges; and, we focus on what we wish for, rather than what we don’t want. You can use appreciative inquiries in your interactions with others, and as reflection tools for yourself. A few of the key elements of appreciative inquiries are that they:
– Evoke values and ultimate concerns by asking about high point stories or most valued qualities.
– Use positive questions that build on positive assumptions.
– Enhance the possibility of storytelling by using open-ended questions that focus on personal experiences.
Here are a few appreciative inquiries for you to consider as you move through your day:
– Recall a time in your life when you felt great joy, a great delight inspired by something exceptionally good or satisfying. What was happening during that time? What led to the emotion? What were you able to do as a result?
– What was the best choice you made about your health today? What strengths supported you in making that choice? What values did you honor?
– If you could have any three wishes granted that would support you in being your best self, what would they be?