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 “Yes, and…” and “your main focus is on your partner.”
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 can’t say, “you idiot, that’s a banana!” You have to go with the flow, answer the phone, and say, “Hey! I was just about to call you – your Mom’s here and wants to know what you did with her gold-plated antique chamber pot she inherited from your Dad’s Aunt Phoebe in Alaska!” 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 she’s going with it.
In a nonprofit setting, if a board member says, “our students aren’t showing up for tutoring,” the response is “yes, and let’s figure out the ideal situation.” If you can envision an ideal situation, then you can work towards that ideal. If you say, “yes, but they’re dealing with issues at home, the buses aren’t running at the right time, their parents don’t push them….” you’re not adding to the conversation. You’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.