Appreciative Coaching

Appreciative coaching explained - toolshero

This article will give a practical explanation of appreciative coaching. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful management tool.

What is Appreciative Coaching?

There are different forms of coaching and even more ideas about what a good coach should be. Often the debate is about the various roles a coach should take on, such as being a listener, challenger, mentor, motivator, and more.

Appreciative coaching is different from all other forms of coaching and mentorship. Appreciative coaching is deeply rooted in the basic principles of appreciative inquiry. It’s mostly aimed at the professional and personal life of the coachee and has been designed to get the most out of the skills of a person, organisation, or group.

Appreciative coaching is about expanding people’s ability to develop and perform. That’s achieved by acknowledging existing problems. More specifically, seeing these problems as opportunities to learn. This form of coaching can take the coachee to new heights because it encourages personal transformation and change. By focussing on innate talent and inherent strengths in order to achieve all that the coachee envisions, the likelihood of lasting results increases substantially.

Empowerment

Appreciative coaching is described as a shared experience between coach and client. Together with the coach, the client will work on a new plan for the future, based on strategies and supporting actions aimed at success. The relationship between the two is one of discovery. Through intensive listening, asking question, and offering sincere encouragement, the coach facilitates the process for the client to discover their own answers and take responsibility for their actions.

By increasing the clients’ self-awareness, they will better understand how they can utilise their strengths. Appreciative coaching is therefore more a form of empowerment than imposing strategies for change.

Appreciative coaching is used by business leaders, communities, educational institutions, government bodies, and non-profits.

The value of appreciative coaching for organisations

Retaining people with great potential within the organisation is a major challenge faced by many human resource managers. Accelerating the path towards the top for leaders with lots of qualities is difficult.

Confidence and development

There are two sides to this issue. The organisation would like to keep these people on board, but high potential employees like to see concrete actions taken by the organisation to show it cares about their careers. Financial reward isn’t always enough. More responsibility and important tasks show the company’s trust and dedication, and it will ensure that employees will deliver their best performance. However, that’s not always an option. Yet talented employees will always want to continue to develop. Appreciative coaching therefore offers an opportunity to reduce the likelihood that these employees will leave the organisation.

Win-win situation

Even employees with lots of potential make mistakes. The number of mistakes, and the consequences of those mistakes can however be reduced. Any errors by these employees are another concern for businesses. After all, mistakes cost money, and the consequences can have a negative impact on the rest of the organisation. By inspiring leaders through appreciative coaching, they are allowed to take charge of their own development, get creative, and encourage innovation. Really investing in appreciative coaching will therefore ensure a win-win situation for both the organisation and the leader being coached.

Five principles of Appreciative Coaching

The five principles described below are the foundation of any appreciative coaching relationship. As mentioned earlier, appreciative coaching builds on the basic concepts of appreciative inquiry. The principle of this aimed at implementing change based on the coachee’s strengths and confidence in a successful future.

Appreciative coaching principles - toolshero

1. The constructionist principle

The constructionist principle comes from the social constructionist theory. It posits that the language people use shapes our social reality. That comes down to the following:

  • The terms human beings use to understand themselves and the world around them aren’t required by ‘what’s there’
  • Description methods are derived from human relationships
  • As we human beings describe, explain, or represent something, so do we also shape the future
  • Reflection on our ways of understanding is essential for our future well-being

The principle acknowledges that there are many ways to look at social reality and truths. According to the principle, absolute claims are impossible. The final word in any discussion should be replaced by a never-ending joint quest to understand and construct better options for our lives.

The same is true for appreciative coaching. During the coaching sessions, the coachee will never be told what to do or to change their view. During the session, it’s important that an aspect is approached from multiple angles, and there should always be room for discussion.

2. The poetic principle

The poetic principle is derived from the first principle of appreciative inquiry and appreciative coaching. It tells us that human beings are in the habit of filtering some of the aspects that we see, while emphasising others. Over time, these mental filters become stronger. Psychology refers to this principle as confirmation bias; mental filters become stronger, and beliefs and habits are reinforced by our own evidence. Everything that then disagrees with this will be ignored or dismissed. The result is that people only focus on what they’re interested in and what they perceive as reality is reinforced.

These mental filters can be broken, for instance due to problems, setbacks, or unforeseen circumstances. Before the financial crisis, many people believed that the period of economic expansion would last forever. After it, they realised that even economic expansion is subject to change.

3. The anticipatory principle

Human behaviour in the present is influenced by the future that we expect. The more positive our outlook, the more positive our actions in the present will be.

Both individuals and organisations tend to grow towards these positive visions of the future. This is often compared to plants and flowers. They also grow toward the positive – the sun.

Expectations of the future are shaped by discussions in the present. Having a clear vision for the future helps with creating intrinsic motivation. Yet we also have anxiety and bad experiences. These keep people away from what they don’t want.

Motivation

Even when a person knows where they want to go, circumstances can force them to alter course, away from their goal. Escaping unfavourable situations can therefore cause us to drift away farther from where we actually want to be. This type of motivation only lasts until the next crisis. Motivation that stems from a positive vision of the future, on the other hand, is constant and can even get stronger as we get closer to our goals.

4. The simultaneity principle

Particularly this fourth principle of appreciative inquiry is of great value to appreciative coaching. Change starts when a person starts to ask questions. The first questions form the foundation for what will be discovered in the future. The answers to these first questions inspire, discuss, and construct the future.

The traditional order of activities for change is as follows:

  1. Collect information
  2. Analyse information
  3. Propose change
  4. Implement change

Change patterns aren’t determined by genes or the physical environment; they’re determined by the social context. This includes relationships and communications, questions that are being asked, and other input from the social system. This input affects the listener and emphasises certain ideas. Other ideas are dismissed.

5. The positive principle

The more positive the questions asked during appreciative coaching, the more lasting and effective the change the coachee is going through will be. Change is not easy for people. It requires the development of new approaches and ideas to do things and to communicate with others. Change is also stressful for many of us. The more fundamental the change, the more stressful it will be. It’s no surprise that many projects that involve implementing change fail. Not because of shortcomings in the plan, but because people were not willing or not able to support the change.

Countering this requires a high level of positive emotion and social engagement to achieve successful change. Positive emotions help people feel better, make them think better strategically, be more creative, and be more effective decision makers. This was the outcome of research by psychologists Barbara Fredrickson and Alice Isen. It also turns out that people recover quickly from setbacks when they have positive emotions; they can even improve overall health.

Appreciative coaching can help stimulate a positive emotional climate. That will make the change less stressful, strengthen resilience against setbacks, and improve performance.

Example of basic appreciative coaching questions

The questions used in appreciative coaching should be based on the principles described above. Which questions exactly will be asked depends on the coachee and the purpose of the session. Generally speaking, appreciative coaching is employed for career counselling. Below, you’ll find several example questions that can be used as a guide for the coaching session.

Milestones

  • List three results or achievements you’re proud of
  • Why are these three more important to you than the others? Why are you proud of that?
  • What did these successes teach you that you can use today?

Role models

  • Who are your role models, or who are the people you admire?
  • Which traits, achievements, or other aspects do you admire or respect about them?
  • Which traits or other aspects have you adopted, or would you like to adopt?

Personality, relationships, and work

  • Which five traits describe you best?
  • What are the five most positive traits of your personality?
  • Which aspects of your life do you consider particularly positive?
  • List five things you enjoy doing, and another five you would hate to have to give up
  • What do you like most about the work you’re currently doing?

Vision for the future

  • Not thinking about your strengths, what career would you choose if it could be anything?
  • When a performance assessment didn’t go as well as expected, how would you ensure that the next one would be positive?
  • What do you hope that your colleagues or other loved ones would always tell you?
  • What do you hope your colleagues or family members say when they’re asked about you as a person?
  • What do you think they’ll say about you?

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with this explanation of appreciative coaching? Have you received enough encouragement to develop yourself during your career so far? Would you change careers if you don’t see any opportunities for advancement? What aspects do you think are important for appreciative coaching? Do you have any tips or additional comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Gordon, S. (2008). Appreciative inquiry coaching. International Coaching Psychology Review, 3(1), 17-29.
  2. Orem, S. L., Binkert, J., & Clancy, A. L. (2007). Appreciative coaching: A positive process for change. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Selcer, A., Goodman, G., & Decker, P. J. (2012). Fostering Transformational Leadership in Business and Health Administration Education through Appreciative Inquiry Coaching. Business Education Innovation Journal, 4(2).

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