As the summer comes to an end, so does our journey with Appreciative Inquiry. Let’s review what we have from our AI blog series:
- The Constructionist Principle: words create worlds. There is no Truth, our reality is co-created through our conversations.
- The Poetic Principle: what we appreciate appreciates. We have endless opportunities to re-write our stories.
- The Simultaneity Principle: inquiry creates change. The future changes the moment we ask a question.
- The Anticipatory Principle: images inspires action. Creating vivid, positive images of our desired future will lead us there.
Today, let’s delve deeper into the last of the core AI Principles: The Positive Principle.
Positive Psychology: In order to understand the Positive Principle better, we need to take a little detour in the field of positive psychology. Traditionally, psychology has been a deficit-based science, looking at what constitutes disorders, illnesses, or abnormal behaviors. Flip this concept on its head, and you find a science that is studying what it means to be well, healthy, and thriving. This is exactly what Martin Seligman did about 20 years ago, giving birth to the positive psychology movement.
The positive effects of positive emotions: No positive psychology discussion is complete without mention of Barbara Fredrickson and her broaden-and-build theory that suggests that positive emotions expend our cognitive abilities, leading to short AND long term, mental AND physical health benefits. In her research, positive emotions are more specific and measurable than happiness, they include: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. The fight or flight response triggered by stressful events when our sympathetic nervous system takes over is fairly well known. Fredrickson’s research is about the responses of our parasympathetic nervous system, when there is no threat and we are in a rest state, and we are experiencing positive emotions. Results show that micro-moments of positivity make us more creative, helpful, flexible, resilient, socially integrated, generous, and even physically healthy. In other words, when having fun or feeling good, we work more efficiently, we learn quicker, make more effective decisions, and are better able to resolve conflict.
The positive core: The reason this background is important here is that Appreciative Inquiry builds on the positive core of individuals and situations—and everyone and everything has one! Yet it is a concept that is constantly evolving. In Appreciative Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life, Jackie Kelm describes the positive core as “the wisdom, knowledge, successful strategies, positive attitudes, strengths, skills, aspirations, resources, and capabilities” of all people and situations. If what we pay attention to appreciates, then by focusing on the positive core, and asking positive questions, we bring out the best in others and situations. This type of reframing to see the positive core takes some effort, but it’s a muscle we can develop with regular practice.
Strengths for change: Part of our positive core are our strengths. Putting our strengths to use is often a sure way to create positive emotions. If curiosity is a strength of yours, you will most likely experience interest, maybe even joy or amusement, as you learn a new skill or new facts. To find out what your strengths are, check out the VIA Strengths Survey (free), a questionnaire based on the work of Dr. Seligman. (I highly recommend purchasing the more detailed VIA ME and/or VIA Pro reports, as they provides not only a description of each strength, but also tips on how to use them and how not to overuse them.) Understanding our signature strengths can explain a lot about our emotions and behaviors and is an effective tool to bring out our positive core. For example, if fairness is your signature strength, you probably expect tasks and chores to be divided equally and feel upset when they are not. Only, there is a risk of overusing this strength and being too rigid, potentially harming your relationships. What if you balanced this strength with others that are also in your top five, like perspective, curiosity, or creativity? You may find new ways to assign responsibilities that satisfy your need for all things being equal, while meeting others’ needs as well. Can you think of two strengths you have that could balance each other out?
The Positive Principle suggests that we look for positive cores and strengths, in ourselves, in others, in situations and systems. Asking positive questions is a way to generate positive emotions and create momentum that put us in the best possible state to lead positive change and move toward our desired future.
Alexandra Arnold has a background in travel and is now an Administrative Concierge at PwC. She holds a Certificate in Positive Organizational Development from Champlain College and is working toward her Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. She facilitates Appreciative Living Learning Circles, small group workshops designed to teach the principles of Appreciative Inquiry and exercises to develop positivity and resilience.