by Andy Smith (UK)

A while ago I was interviewing a fellow coach for some research I was doing in creating an online course. Later that day I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had posted on her Facebook page: ‘What an amazingly enlightening conversation I had this morning! Forever grateful, truly!’ Her life-affirming revelation had sprung from one question that I had asked her: ‘Tell me about one of the best experiences of your professional life.’ What was so powerful about this question?

Psychologists characterise motivation as either ‘approach’ (reward) or ‘avoid’ (threat). It’s easier to trigger the ‘threat’ response than the ‘reward’ response, especially if a coaching client is already feeling anxious or down. Many commonly-used coaching questions, such as ‘what stops you?’, ‘why haven’t you achieved that goal already?’, and ‘what prevents you from being at your best?’ focus on the negatives of a situation and can easily set off ‘avoid’ rather than ‘approach’ motivation.

I’m not suggesting that coaching should be all about the positives, merely that you may get better results for your clients if you first ask them questions that remind them about their strengths, qualities, achievements and what motivates them. This gets them to a place where they can view problems in perspective, and find it much easier to come up with creative ways of solving them.

The best model I have found for achieving this Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method of change that works not by focusing on problems and trying to find their causes, but rather by looking for what’s already working and doing more of that. Developed by Dr David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University in the mid-eighties, AI grew of out the field of organisational change, but can also be applied to one-to-one coaching.

Source: iCN Issue 23 (Coaching Tools, Tips & Techniques); pages 33-36

About Andy Smith

Andy Smith is an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, Emotional Intelligence consultant, and NLP trainer based in the UK. He has been assisting individuals and groups with accelerated change for 25 years.

He is the author of Leadership EQ: How To Lead With Emotional Intelligence, Achieve Your Goals: Strategies To Transform Your Life, and The Trainer’s Pack of NLP Exercises. Andy is accredited to administer the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI™) 360º assessment and is an ANLP trainer member, but spreading the word about practical Appreciative Inquiry is now his main focus.

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