Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Hybrid working: skills for leadership
Hybrid working: skills for leadership

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.4 Introducing appreciative inquiry (AI)

One way to encourage ideas from team members and encourage them to develop and share ideas is to foster engagement, creativity and leadership at all levels.

What if you could do that simply by improving the quality of your conversations? That’s the promise of appreciative inquiry, known as AI – not to be confused with artificial intelligence.

AI is used to foster positive change in individuals, groups and organisations. The idea of AI is that we create each interaction, meeting and ultimately all our social systems through conversation and shared meaning-making. According to David Cooperrider, founder of the AI approach: ‘We live in worlds our conversations create’ (Cooperrider, 2021).

Think about a time you had a conversation with someone who listened with their full attention and brought time, focus, new ideas and perspectives, and positive energy to the conversation. How did that feel? Now contrast that with the last time you spent time in a meeting with people who were distracted by messages or documents and who seemed not to listen, just waiting to speak themselves while criticising or blaming others.

In AI, the first of these types of conversation (attentive, focused, positive) is ‘appreciative’ and adds value to a situation, person or opportunity. The second is ‘depreciative’ – it reduces the value of a situation, person or opportunity.

In appreciative conversations, we share ideas, acknowledgements, useful information and suggestions. This strengthens connections, enhances relationships, sharpens our perception, expands our awareness and generates new knowledge and innovation.

Depreciative conversations, in contrast, are characterised by failure to listen, interruption, distraction, criticism and complaining. They weaken and strain relationships, narrow our horizons, reinforce assumptions and dull creative and critical thinking. Ultimately, depreciative conversations can have a destructive effect on workplace engagement, team performance, organisational success and ultimately even individual mental and physical health.

Due to twentieth-century expectations about leadership, many leaders have been conditioned to focus on problems, manage issues and risks, analyse root causes of difficulties and hold people to account. This can lead to a tendency to become involved in depreciative conversations.

AI challenges you to be a different kind of leader by having appreciative conversations. It involves looking beyond the immediate problem and taking a wider view of the team or organisation as a living system, or as one of many ‘universes of strengths and unlimited human imagination’ (Stavros and Torres, 2018).

The heart of AI consists of the cooperative search for the best in people, their organisations, and the world around them and that solving tough problems from that perspective results in creative solutions, which is life-giving for people.