What is Appreciative Inquiry ?Written by Dr. Sunita Rai
Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to the country and to mankind is to bring up a family.George Bernard Shaw
Characteristics of thriving families
Let us pause for a moment and think. As this is about ourselves, we call it reflection.
On a normal day, do you talk more about good stuff (values, dreams, gratitude, accomplishment) or bad stuff (weather, crowd, cost etc.)? Do we reject people as a whole just because they did something we do not like or we think is wrong. Do we ask more or talk more?
Did you get some insights about yourself? If you did, that's great. If you did not, may be it will take some more time for you get there. You may even try to ask these questions with reference to some one else.
As you would have noticed, what got you insights or information are the questions that you asked. The moment we ask a question, we engage in a conversation with ourselves or with another person. This inquiry initiates the process of a change in us, towards what we inquire about – that is one principle of Appreciative Inquiry. For example, if we constantly ask ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) questions like, “how can I win this rat race? How can I be better than others?”, we end up winning the rat race and getting better than others. If we change the questions we ask ourselves, the results we get might also be different. Example: “How could I live a successful life? What does success mean to me?”
What is Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry as you might have guessed is a way of inquiring into what is working, so that we create more of those in our lives. It is a way of asking questions to ourselves and to those who are close to us, in a way that it brings out the best in them. It is a way of life, where one develops a habit of sincere and authentic inquiry into what works.
The above is simple to understand, but not easy to practice. We are more used to ‘tell’ than ‘ask’, may be because asking shows we not know and telling implies we know. Asking also needs one to listen attentively and be open to change ones own assumptions, often times it might be letting go of the rope we are hanging on.
Appreciation in practice
When we start practising some of these inquiry habits every day, change begins to happen around us. The next step would be to manage our responses: do we criticise more than affirming and celebrating? When you see your child’s score card, do you focus on the top scores or the lowest scores? What is the topic of discussion for the next 20 minutes, how worse she did or how well she did in the exams?
In short, thriving families seem to be practising some specific behaviours:
- There is more affirmation than criticism
- They are able to love the person while not accepting the specific behaviour
- They help members recognize their gifts and apply them in making a positive contribution
- They provide a path for learning and building trust among family members. Healthy boundaries are also established.
In these families, people focus on positive questions (what is working?) rather than problem questions (what is missing?).
This does not mean that life is always great and going well. But focusing on what we want and what is positive help us move in that direction, rather than focusing on what is not. Our thoughts lead to our speech, which in turn get translated into actions and habits. Are we in the habit of looking for faults or are we looking for gifts and strengths?
Ask first, listen second, respond appropriately third
Open questions are a great way for for creating conversations with children and family members. These conversations could be about the dreams of your children, what was interesting in their day at school, history and traditions of the family etc. Genuine sincere inquiry to find out what is happening (versus to blame or judge), what do they want, what is working, what are the strengths, what do they appreciate, help us plan family events, help make decisions, broaden thinking, initiate self-reflection, create a family vision and clear path forward.
Good questions help us to become a great listener as well. We catch ourselves dreaming, zoning out or preparing our own responses.
‘I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advice them to do it’ –Harry S Truman
“What you seek, you find more of.” Is a simple principle in Appreciative Inquiry. Hence what we ask is fateful in determining what we get. If we make it a point to ask about what is going well, we will start creating more of what is working well. Stories of strengths from the past create confidence for us to move into the future. People commit to what they help create – and questions are invitations to create a future together and make sense of the present. When we live a life of appreciation, the intent is always appreciative whatever may the situation be. When we have difficulty with our children, we identify three to six parents who show great patience with children and ask them how they do it. We do not let go of our positive spirit come what may. And hence the images we create in our mind about the bright future will become reality eventually. We think, feel and act our way into the future, together!