For years, the words Appreciative Inquiry seeped into my consciousness.
It began at a two-day national development seminar, and most recently at a five-day conference for lay leaders, nonprofit professionals and clergy. By this time, it appeared everywhere, either explicitly or implicitly; there seemed to be a whole track of sessions that demonstrated appreciative inquiry in different settings.
On a very simple level, Appreciative Inquiry begins with:
- appreciating and valuing what is;
- envisioning what might be;
- engaging in dialogue about what should be; and
- innovating to create what will be.
So what does Improv Comedy have to do with Appreciative Inquiry? Good question. Two main rules of Improv Comedy are â€œYes, andâ€¦â€ and â€œyour main focus is on your partner.â€
First, whatever is thrown at you, you have to accept it and build on it. For example, if someone picks up a banana and uses it to call you on the phone, you canâ€™t say, â€œyou idiot, thatâ€™s a banana!â€ You have to go with the flow, answer the phone, and say, â€œHey! I was just about to call you â€“ your Momâ€™s here and wants to know what you did with her gold-plated antique chamber pot she inherited from your Dadâ€™s Aunt Phoebe in Alaska!â€ The point is, you have to accept what has been handed to you, and figure out what to do with it.
Second, with every sentence being a potential surprise, you have to focus closely on your partner, listen to whatever is being said and try to understand where sheâ€™s going with it.
In a nonprofit setting, if a board member says, â€œour students arenâ€™t showing up for tutoring,â€ the response is â€œyes, and letâ€™s figure out the ideal situation.â€ If you can envision an ideal situation, then you can work towards that ideal. If you say, â€œyes, but theyâ€™re dealing with issues at home, the buses arenâ€™t running at the right time, their parents donâ€™t push themâ€¦.â€ youâ€™re not adding to the conversation. Youâ€™re focusing on problems and seeming defensive, instead of hearing that the board member cares about the situation and inviting him to a shared vision of a better future.
acknowledges that the comment was made,
appreciates that it is a concern,
inquires into what would be better.
And starts a dialogue about creating a better future.