We’re educated to use our so called “left brain” to be analytical and solve problems and make endless lists and focus on things that need changing because they don't work. Think about your meetings at work and other social interactions throughout your life.
This trajectory most likely started with how your parents taught you to be a good boy or girl growing up. It continued with your relationships with teachers at school, and then your bosses at work.
This meme seems to be the traditional way across most post industrial cultures. We value our analytical brain, our executive brain, but that brain doesn’t run our lives when we are faced with fear or anxiety or the unknown, or when feeling discomfort or insecurity and especially when we feel vulnerable.
Recently, I was present in a meeting after a software roll out in an global bank. They name these meetings “post mortems.” Really! The language is already ominous. It smells of death. The leaders of the meeting, by default, as most of us do, focused immediately on the things that went wrong and failed in the rollout.
Indeed, these things needed addressing, but the tone of the meeting within minutes of starting was spiraling downwards fast and people’s energy was deflating and eye contact dropping to the floor for fear of the blame game.
Energy Spiraling Upward
So, imagine if the team members (or the leader) had started the meeting with:
“We’ve just had a global roll out of a product we’ve been working so hard on together for months, and it went pretty well. In fact, it went great!
“Let’s start this meeting congratulating ourselves by spending a few minutes on what worked well from our individual perspectives and then we’ll address what we need to change.
What are we proud of in this roll out? What good feedback have we had from clients? What really worked well?”
The tone and the energy starts to pick up and spiral upward, a different set of chemicals fire within the brain and there’s energy to listen to each other, collaborate and increase engagement and productivity. Solutions to problems and a willingness to address them begin to emerge without even having to drag them out of reluctant mouths.
The people in the room experience a different energy and begin to initiate changes from a place of engaged, solution-focused creativity and possibility.
Energy for Positive Change
This is one of the lessons of embracing change from a valuing or appreciative perspective. You first discover and focus on what works and all the existing assets and then the weaknesses or faults begin to come into the conversation and they get addressed also – but from a very different place. It’s a place of we’re-in-this-together: we’ve just praised ourselves for what went well, and now we can together begin to address what we need to fix and improve on.
In summary then, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a change methodology looks for what’s already working well in a person or situation, not what’s broken. It takes a little practice to make that shift, as our default seems to look for what’s wrong in ourselves, each other and society at large.
One of the key principles of AI is ‘what you study grows’. If you study deficits, you’ll find many, and if you study success, you’ll find a lot of it. Appreciative Inquiry is both a way of thinking and doing. It provides a framework and a method to initiate positive emotions, thoughts and actions that can produce outcomes directed with intentionality toward affirming life, heightening positive energy and uplifting the human spirit.
How do You View Change?
Focus on the changes in your own life. If you stop to appreciate what you have already working for yourself, in terms of what has helped you to get to where you are today – it could be your past achievements, past successes, past and present relationships, your network, your skill sets, your personal attributes – you might just have a shift in perspective about what you might change, or how you might view certain changes that are happening to you.
What’s your default disposition to change? What kind of changes do you fear and avoid at all costs; and what kind of changes do you embrace with positive energy?
I’d love to hear from you as I'm developing an online course on change and I'd love to hear your perspective.