- Brandyn Simmons
The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry
Whether I am coaching a church or leadership team through transformation and revitalization, training a nonprofit or church board how to use powerful questioning to affect change, or doing organization development for a company, I usually use some facet of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as the tool. Therefore, I'd like to spend a little time over the next few posts unpacking it.
I think it's helpful to have a good understanding of both the stages (Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny) and the principles underlying the process. These principles are: the Constructionist, Positivity, Simultaneity, Poetic, and Anticipatory Principles.
Today I want to focus on the Constructionist Principle and see how it applies to change. This principle states that the world is viewed subjectively and our relationships, the language we use, and the metaphors we construct create our reality. As Cooperrider and Whitney posited, this theory "replaces the individual with the relationship as the locus of knowledge." So how does this relate to organizational or even personal transformation?
Many of us become stuck with particular thoughts and ideas that dictate what we think is possible. We tend to be passive and build symbolic parameters around our own capabilities and see the resulting progress (or lack thereof) as being predestined. Instead, if we change our metaphors and language and therefore our own perception of reality, a new reality can be born. This leads to a shift in mindset that sees more possibility.
Especially as Christians, it is easy to get stuck in that mindset that God must have foreordained our limitations and we've finally hit the wall. I think this is unhealthy thinking. In fact, Romans 8:22 says "From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth." This tells me that God is STILL CREATING and using US to do it! The only limitations we have are those we create.
If you are a member of a team or even the leader, your language matters. It matters for those around you and also for yourself. For leaders, the next time you are in a meeting and hear someone using negative terminology, perhaps ask how that individual can reframe it in a positive way. In other words, if they are stating a challenge as a problem, perhaps ask questions that will lead them to think of the issue as something positive to create.
We can change mindsets through powerful questions. This is what coaching is all about. You can even coach yourself. If you catch yourself thinking a certain way that is limiting, ask yourself what the situation would look like if you had a magic wand and could make it ideal. (You'll see some of this "magic" at Rally Day!) Then, ask yourself what you are already doing that can help to get you to that point. You'll be surprised! If you state that question in the negative, such as, "What is getting in the way of getting to the ideal?" then you only focus on a barrier that is only perpetuated.
This is important to remember: we tend to keep doing whatever we focus on. So, if we focus on what we are doing right, then we will keep doing it and getting better at it. In fact, the Enjoyment Performance Theory tells us that we do more of what we enjoy and therefore we get good at it because we do it so often. This leads to receiving praise and affirmation for our ability and ultimately doing it more. This is a perpetual cycle. If we state a challenge in the positive, we can turn it into something enjoyable and therefore do more of what naturally alleviates the perceived problem.
Ask questions instead of making statements. Reframe those questions into positive open-ended ones. Challenge your own thinking and those in your team. Try these things and new potentialities and realities will appear before you that you never even considered!