Helping people live, love, and lead like Jesus

6 | Appreciative Inquiry Coaching

A New Approach to Coaching

A relatively new approach to coaching called Appreciative Inquiry Coaching (AIC), has its roots in Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI evolved in the 1980s as a revolutionary and positive philosophy towards organizational change and is a process that focuses on leveraging an organization’s core strengths rather than seeking to overcome or minimize its weaknesses. Appreciative Inquiry Coaching, engages and focuses clients on both the positive present and possible future, rather than on the problems of the
past and present. AI recognizes the best in people or the world around us. It affirms past and present strengths, successes and potentials. It focuses on health, vitality, excellence, and what’s already present in a situation.

The AIC process is an act of exploration and discovery that, through the use of questions, invites clients to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. AI is regarded as a positive, strengths-based operational approach to change, learning and development that blends well with other coaching approaches and practices. Two essential components of AI are its five core principles and five (5-D) core processes. These principles and processes are understood to have emerged from theoretical and research foundations, and research on the power of imagery.

The Five Principles

  1. Constructionist Principle (words create worlds). Reality, as we know it, is a subjective vs. objective state and is socially created through language and conversations.
  2. Simultaneity Principle (inquiry creates change). The moment we ask a question, we begin to create a change. “The questions we ask are fateful.”
  3. Poetic Principle (we can choose what we study). Teams and organizations, like open books, are endless sources of study and learning. What we choose to study makes a difference. It describes – even creates – the world as we know it.
  4. Anticipatory Principle (images inspire action). Human systems move in the direction of their images of the future. The more positive and hopeful the image of the future, the more positive the present- day action.
  5. Positive Principle (positive questions lead to positive change). Momentum for small or large- scale change requires large amounts of positive affect and social bonding. This momentum is best generated through positive questions that amplify the positive core.

The 5-D Processes (often called steps or stages)

The steps or stages
  1. Define – What is the topic of inquiry? – It is important to define the overall focus of the inquiry (what the system wants more of). Definition is used to clarify the area of work to be considered. In spite of being the starting point of the cycle, it’s a recent addition – the 5Ds were originally the 4Ds, including discover, dream, design and destiny. Definition defines the project’s purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved. In this phase, the guiding question is, “What generative topic do we want to focus on together?”
  2. Discover – Appreciating the best of ‘what is’ – Discovery is based on a dialogue, as a way of finding ‘what works’. It rediscovers and remembers the organization or community’s successes, strengths and periods of excellence.
  3. Dream – Imagining ‘what could be’ – Imagining uses past achievements and successes identified in the discovery phase to imagine new possibilities and envisage a preferred future. It allows people to identify their dreams for a community or organization; having discovered ‘what is best’. They have the chance to project it into their wishes, hopes and aspirations for the future
  4. Design – Determining ‘what should be’ – Design brings together the stories from discovery with the imagination and creativity from dream. We call it bringing the ‘best of what is’ together with ‘what might be’, to create ‘what should be – the ideal’.
  5. Deliver/Destiny/Do – Creating ‘what will be’ – The fifth stage in the 5Ds process identifies how the design is delivered, and how it’s embedded into groups, communities and organizations. In early appreciative inquiry development, it was called ‘delivery’, based on more traditional organizational development practice. The term ‘destiny’ is more prevalent now. Vibrant Faith frequently uses the phrase “DO what matters every day” to describe this stage.

Replace standard questions with AI-oriented questions (samples below)
  • In place of “Tell me what the problem is” ask, “What gives you energy?”
  • In place of “Tell me what’s wrong” ask, “What do you most value about yourself?”
  • In place of “What are you worried about?” Ask, “What do you want more of?”
  • In place of “What do you need help with?” Ask, “What worked well for you before?”
  • In place of “What’s bothering you?” Ask, “What’s working well now?”
  • In place of “What is and isn’t working?” Ask, “What first attracted you to...?”
  • In place of “What are you going to do about...?” Ask, “What did you do to contribute?”
  • In place of “How are you going to fix this?” Ask, “What does it look like when you...?”

Sample DISCOVER Questions
  • Describe what you consider stress at work to be. Can you offer a definition, phrase or quote to describe it and provide an example?
  • When recently have you displayed the ability to cope with stress at work? What was the situation which required coping behavior?
  • What attitude(s) did you adopt at that time? What were you thinking?
  • Describe your emotions while you were coping with stress.
  • How did you react? What did you do?

Sample DREAM Questions
  • Imagine one night while you were asleep a miracle occurred, and when you woke up your coping behavior was just as you’ve described, in all stressful situations. How would you know you were handling stress well?
  • What would be different?
  • What changed in your habits?
  • Who would be the first to notice these changes?
  • What will they say or do, and how will you respond?

Sample DESIGN Questions
  • How will you act differently to make the above work?
  • How best can you develop your ability to handle stress?
  • Are there ‘significant others’ whom you feel play a crucial role in the development of your ability to handle stress?
  • What do you think these individuals do to help? What do they not do?
  • Are there any techniques or methods that you have experienced which you feel influences your ability to handle stress?
  • Think of someone you know who you would characterize as being able to handle stress. How do you think they have developed their ability?

Sample DO Questions
  • Reflecting on what you really want and where you are right now regarding coping with stress, what do you see as the most significant changes you could make that would help you get what you want?
  • What one small change could you make right now, no matter how small, that would improve your ability to handle stress? The change does not have to be a physical action – it could be a shift in thinking or attitude.

Sample LIFE COACHING Questions

Your History
  • Describe your three greatest accomplishments to date.
  • What made these accomplishments stand out for you?
  • What have you incorporated into your current actions from your past accomplishments?
  • How could you use what you’ve learned from these accomplishments to assist you in making future changes?
  • What major transitions have you had in the past two years? (For example, new assignment, new residence, new relationship, etc.)
  • If you worked with a coach before or a similar one-on-one adult relationship (for example, tennis coach, piano teacher, therapist) what worked well for you?
  • If you have worked with a coach, and you are not currently, how did that relation- ship end?

Your Life
  • Who are or have been your major role models?
  • What attributes of these role models do you admire and want to emulate?
  • What are the five most positive things in your life?
  • What are five things you would like to change in your life that would make it even more satisfying, effective, and joyful? (Examples include relationships, information, environment, job.)
  • Who are the key supportive people in your life, and what do they provide for you? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being least effective and 10 being most effective), rate the quality of your life.
  • Based on  what criteria did you rate yourself? What percentage of the life you are leading is actually YOUR life?

Your Self Today
  • List five adjectives that describe you at your best.
  • What prevents you from being at your best?
  • What energizes you? What saps your energy?
  • What are you learning and accepting about yourself at present?

Your Potential
  • What is your personal and/or professional vision?
  • What would you like to contribute to the world?
  • What are you most wanting to achieve in the next three years?
  • What are you most wanting to achieve in the next six months?
  • How ready are you to go for it?

  • When you look over your work history, what role did you enjoy the most and why? 
  • What are your strengths at work – what are you good at?
  • What gives you pleasure at work – what do you enjoy doing?
  • What gives you meaning at work – what gives you a sense of purpose?
  • What do you consider to be your ideal job?
  • Where do you see yourself in a year/three to five years/10 years?
  • What is it about this career goal that you’re interested in?
  • How ready do you think you are for the next step in your career?
  • What do you see as your next challenge?
  • What do you think you’ll find the most challenging/rewarding aspect of your career goal?

Sample TEAMWORK Questions

  • What gives life to our team when it is at its best...?
  • What are the qualities of our colleagues that most foster enthusiasm, information sharing, and collaboration towards common goals?
  • Describe the best teamwork that you have seen or been part of recently. What was it about that teamwork that caused you to define it as ‘the best’?
  • What were the conditions that allowed that winning teamwork to emerge?
  • Think of other successful ‘teams’ that also have winning teamwork, teamwork that you admire. What makes that teamwork tick?
  • What does that team do that we could try, or learn from, to do better?

CHAPTER 6 | Student Assignments

Review of Chapter Outcomes
  • To understand , articulate, and demonstrate the 5 principles related to appreciative inquiry.
  • To understand, articulate, and demonstrate the 5 processes related to appreciative inquiry coaching.
  • To practice using appreciative inquiry methods during meetings and coaching situations.

Assignments to Submit


Insights, Ideas and Applications from Past Participants

"I like the appreciative inquiry process because it focuses on what is present rather than what's missing."
"The process is hopeful and filled with possibilities."
I've started using AI principles in team meetings and  it has been transformative."