What’s Giving You Life?

As I’m nearing the end of Course 1, the most powerful concept I’ve come across so far is Appreciative Inquiry. AI is the coaching core process methodology. Simply put, AI is a method that focuses on what an organization is doing well, rather than on what it’s doing wrong. In the case of parent coaching, the organization we are applying AI to is the family.

What I like about AI is that instead of focusing on deficiencies, like so many problem-solving methods, it starts from the belief that within every system (organizational, familial, etc), and every person, there are positive aspects which can be built upon.  First comes the appreciation part. To appreciate something is to assign it its proper value. It is an act of recognition and honoring. Getting to a place of appreciation comes from inquiry. To inquire is an act of exploration or discovery. It is about asking questions and being open to new answers. AI would not look at a situation and ask, “what’s wrong?” because in the very asking of such a question, the outcome is fixed. So, AI assumes that the inquiry – the questions we ask – will focus our attention in a particular direction. The direction AI seeks to go in is always positive. That may sound “pollyanna-ish” but there is good research and application of AI in organizations to back this method up. It has a strong track record for initiating and sustaining positive change. AI does not ignore problems. It simply approaches them from a different angle.

Here’s a better definition from the people who developed it, David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney:

Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them…it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential (Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, Stipes Publishing, 2000, p.5.)

I got to experience the beginning phase of AI with my parent coach recently. One of the first things she asked me was, “What’s working in your life right now?” She broke it down into categories: family, extended family, friendships, marriage, children, school, work, etc. This exercise made it clear very quickly how much strength and positive potential there already is in my life. It was a humbling experience, because my mind constantly wants to frame things as ‘wrong’ or ‘problems’ when life is not going exactly the way I want it to. My coach, Julie, outlined the steps to AI as follows:

Appreciative Inquiry Framework (Not linear- more like a cycle)

  • 1.   Discovery: What is good now
  • 2.   Dream: What I want in the future
  • 3.   Design: Micro-steps to get to that future
  • 4.   Destiny: What you have matches what you want

One of my tougher assignments was to express what I appreciate about myself as a mother. This took some thought, but of course it’s important to know if I am to understand my role in how our family system operates.

So, here goes. My list of what I appreciate about myself as a mother:

  • I’m pretty silly with my kids. I make them laugh a lot.
  • I express love with lots of hugs, kisses, and snuggles all day long.
  • I try to answer every question they ask me without showing irritation.
  • I discipline them lovingly and consistently.
  • I apologize to them when I’ve hurt their feelings, or when I’ve made a mistake.
  • I let them do stuff on their own and in their own way (well, I’m getting better at it)
  • I seek out fun and creative things for us to do together.
  • I get involved in their play.
  • I’m thinking about their needs and making sure those needs are being met.

Now that the hard part is over, I’m ready to get to the dream phase. Here I get to ask, “what would my life look like if it were organized to maximize the positive qualities at my family’s core?” I’m feeling inspired!


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