What Is Appreciative Inquiry?

What is appreciative inquiry and how do you get it to work for you?

Appreciative inquiry explores at what is possible and what is right rather than what is wrong. Appreciative inquiry helps us explore what is working well and what we want more of while keeping our business environment feeling positive and supported.

For example: Instead of exploring how to stop client attrition we can explore this issue from the positive side of what works. Therefore, from the perspective of:

  • What do we do really well?
  • Why do clients choose us?
  • How do we get the highest satisfaction (from employees and from clients)?
  • Where do we make the greatest ROI?
  • What if we cut client attrition by 50%?

By focusing appreciative inquiry questions on how to expand our world of good, problems are left behind – not because we ignore them but because they lose energy. Problems are solved because most become irrelevant in our pursuit of what we do best.

One of the core pillars is that what people focus on has the highest natural chance of becoming real. Therefore, by exploring an issue from a position of ability, you and I automatically create an environment where people throughout the organization ‘feel‘ trust and empowerment, where work is valued, where employees are proud and where all opinions matter. Consider the reverse: How would everyone ‘feel’ after a team spent one or two days identifying what everyone does that hurts the company?

In short:

  • Positive Exploration = Helpful + Empowering
  • Negative Exploration = Harmful + Demoralizing

Another benefit of appreciative inquiry is that at the end of the investigation process, all that time has reinforced positive behaviour – behaviour we want to see more of. This is fantastic because it speeds up the solution implementation process.

Consider the alternative: if all that time was spent exploring problems, at the end of the exploration phase all we’d be left with is ‘What is bad’. Not only is that demoralizing, there is no clear idea what we should be doing… and now we also have to rebuild employee pride and confidence. Ugh….

When You Begin

As with all brainstorming work, when you set up your appreciative inquiry workgroup, be clear to everyone that their voice, their participation and their ideas are important. You want to make sure participants ‘feel’:

  • Safe
  • Important
  • Respected
  • That they belong

Where Can We Use Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative inquiry can pretty much be used anywhere, however, clear environments are:

  • New product development
  • Organizational Development:
    • Strategic planning
    • Visioning
  • Coaching
  • Problem Resolution – for new problems or issues that keep recurring
  • Mission / Vision / Value exploration
  • Monitoring and evaluation.


When I was working in the Corporate Marketing Department at Scotiabank I fell in admiration of Behavioural Event Interview (BEI), because it helped me hire the right staff by uncovering the best in people through stories of their accomplishments.  In the last 5+ years I’ve fell in admiration for appreciative inquiry because it also uncovers the best through stories and more specifically, positive stories.

Appreciative Inquiry was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva at Case Western Reserve University in 1987.

Happy communicating.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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