Appreciative Inquiry

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Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system's capacity to heighten positive potential. AI assumes that every living system has untapped, rich, and inspiring accounts of the positive. Appreciative Inquiry, the study of what works, is a distinct way of improving human systems. AI sets up conversations that awaken pride. The appreciative approach starts with a series of questions about what is working, in order to uncover the root causes of team success. When we have a new staff member or visitor to a Safari CSM we will appreciate the “Safari Differences” where we make positive statements about how Safari Practice is different and better than others models of practice. Each customer service meeting should have these questions or other similar questions posed to start positive recollections of events that have happened.

  • If you name three things here at Safari that gives energy, makes it fun, or makes it rewarding and that would never change, what are those three strengths that you would most want us build on?
  • Share your best example of something successful that has happened in the past week that can be used in the future for serving our clients.
  • What are our clients are asking us to become?
  • What is the smallest change that could have the biggest impact at Safari?

What about the negative? Partiality for the positive loses power, though, if it becomes Pollyanna happy-talk. The deliberate focus on what works doesn't mean the appreciative process denies or refuses to hear "negative" emotions. We do not dismiss accounts of conflict, problems, or stress. We simply do not use them as the basis for analysis or action. We listen when they arise, validate them as lived experience and seek to reframe them. Yet delving into the causes of distress in order to "cure" it can be a trap. These need to be acknowledged and validated. Appropriate use of language can turn most negatives into a positive statement. One AI maxim says, "What we focus on expands". Too much attention to the causes of conflict can entangle us and actually deepen dissension. We bog down in the quicksand of complex problems that may not even have clear-cut solutions.

A team with appreciative values sustains its climate one conversation at a time. Instead of asking for less of something, appreciative teammates make a habit of focusing on and asking for more of what works. Embedded within every complaint is a vision of a desired future. These need to be acknowledged and validated. Appropriate use of language can turn most negatives into a positive statement. AI addresses negativity by overshadowing it with positive images and relationships. This atmosphere supports openness, learning, risk-taking and the complementary blending of individual talents. The whole becomes exponentially more than just the sum of its parts. Being part of such a team is exhilarating, satisfying and just plain fun.

People are irresistibly attracted to workplaces filled with the life-giving climate of pride and appreciation.