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5 Tips for Getting Started with Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry for Change

Appreciative Inquiry is a whole system change methodology. However, by combining Appreciative Inquiry practices with positive psychology theory and research we can create effective micro-practices that will start your organization on the journey of positive and appreciative change. Here are five tips to help you.

1. Change the Story

Left to their own devices, the stories people choose to tell are often tales of misery and woe. This is because we are oriented to notice bad things more than good. Organisational cultures can accentuate this tendency with their emphasis on spotting problems and trouble early on. If we keep talking about our organization as a series of problems to be solved, pretty soon we can only see it through a problem lens and all the good things that are going on are under-reported, under-explored and overlooked.

To overcome this we need to ask about the Good Things. Directly. ‘What’s the best thing that’s happened in your department in the last week?’ ‘Which of your staff are you most proud of and why?’ ‘In all this trouble, what did we do well?’ and so on. These stories are just as much the truth as the problem stories. They too deserve to be heard.

2. Grow the Best of What You’ve Got

All too often leaders or managers fantasise that if only they could get rid of the people they’ve inherited and recruit new people, all their problems would be solved. Since this wish is unlikely to be granted, they would be better advised to put their time to working out how to get the best from the people they have.

To be able to do this we have first to actually notice when people are at their best. Then, to notice what are they doing when they’re at their best, and finally to figure out, how do we know they’re at their best and what good outcomes are we seeing. Once we are able to see all this we can feed it back to them, ‘You really come alive when you are on the phone. I heard you yesterday really holding your ground with.... It’s important to the overall success of the project that we don’t concede ground on that. Well done, and thank you!’ In this way, bit by bit, we can help people grow towards their greatest potential. With the right cultivation, they may surprise us!

3. Be generous with your appreciation

Some managers and leaders act as if appreciation, praise and thanks are all limited resources. They also seem to believe that their limited store of appreciation can be replenished, if they over-spend, by a splurge of critical comment. The biggest complaint many people have about work is that they are under-appreciated, under-valued and never thanked for anything.

Praise and appreciation are an investment not a cost. Manage to achieve a ratio of at least three to one praiseful to critical comments and you may observe exciting things happening as people’s wellbeing, engagement, innovation and creativity improve. Use praise effectively to boost morale, assist learning, bolster confidence, and improve performance. Learn about the magic positivity ratio and make it work for you.

4. Learn how to use some practical micro-positive behaviours

For instance learn about diamond feedback and train people in its use. Diamond feedback is when you both report the behaviour you saw that you thought was good, and give the praise. E.g. ‘ I listened to how you handled that customer call. The way you admitted our errors and thanked her for letting us know was really good. I could hear that you saved a customer we might have lost. That’s worth a lot of money to us. Well done, that was great work.’ By combining a genuine expression of appreciation with a clear articulation of why the behaviour is valued you can kill two birds with one stone: giving praise, and creating learning about outcomes and behaviours that are valued at work.

5. Remember behaviour breeds behaviour

Exemplary acts by others can bring out the best in us in a virtuous circle of admiration, emulation and observation. We find many behaviours such as kindness, patience, helpfulness, courage, generosity, and forgiveness admirable at a deep psychological level. In the modern world of cut-throat competitiveness, it can be hard sometimes to hold on to these virtuous ways of behaving. The relationship between an inspiring workplace culture and performance outcomes may not be direct, but it exists. Find the examples of the exceptional good and share them. Model the behaviour you want. Kindness and compassion creates the bonds that support us through life. Let the best of life shine in your workplace.

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