Canadian Centre for Brief Coaching


Thoughts On Appreciative Inquiry

Many of you can identify a few defining moments in your career when you met someone or something that just fit the way you are - like what Peter Szabo would call "your old comfy jacket" that makes you go ahhhh when you put it on. Before I knew anything about the Solution-Focused practice, I met "coaching" in my last year of university as a psychology major. Mostly interested in Clinical Psychology working in a neuroscience lab at school at the time, I signed up for a bird course called Sport Psychology. I remember three things from that class: the prof who was a passionate soccer coach, the GROW coaching model, and the shock of how simple it seemed. That was the only course without a hefty textbook - just practices and handouts - and I remember walking away thinking 'it sure was a bird course'. That was my first defining moment in my career toward coaching although I did not know at the time. 

Nearly a decade later working as a manager in a non-profit organization and part-time independent consultant, I enrolled in a master's program in Adult Education. I selected a weekend course - Consulting Skills 101 - that did not conflict with my work schedule. On the very first day of the course, the prof put up a slide with this quote by Diana Whitney, one of the founders of Appreciative Inquiry: 

Diana Whitney on Appreciative Inquiry

It took me a while to get it. I believed in certainty, objectivity, randomized controls, and interventions. What do you mean that an object of your study is moving toward your biases? What do you mean that the system is a living system? Then the prof put the next slide up with a similar graphic to this: 

Image:  Source

Image: Source

This was the original 4D model - discover, dream, design, and destiny - and the model has evolved since that time to include an additional stage called Define, now known as the 5D of Appreciative Inquiry. But as it was back then was radical enough to make me read everything I could find on this topic. It made sense. It worked with my clients. This "new jacket" was getting quickly broken in as I saw more and more clients turning from what doesn't work to what works. Although I worked primarily with transforming systems in large organizations, there were noticeable side effects of performance elevation and culture shifts as reported by the delighted clients. Tangible results were reached and recorded, and the consulting part of my career quickly became full-time. 

Towards the end of my master's degree, I walked into the wrong class that was only open to Counselling Psychology students called Brief Counselling Strategies. Without knowing that I was in the wrong class, I heard students talking about strangely familiar terms like diagnoses, DSM IV (yeah, it was some time ago), and interventions. It had been awhile since I heard those things. Then I heard the prof talking even more strangely about some miracle happening the next day. 

Suppose a miracle has happened... and the things that you brought here to talk about is no longer an issue for you... what might be different?  

Ahhhh, the old comfy jacket moment for me there. And that's how I met Solution-Focused Brief Counselling as a familiar outsider who fell in love with it at first sight. 

And you might wonder... what are some similarities and differences between Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Solution-Focused (SF) practice? I used to say that the AI is for groups and organizations where the SF is for individuals. Now that I know more about SF, I don't say that anymore. There are many similarities that they both focus on the client as the expert of their life, and they both focus on the existing progress and resources that they can build on. They also inquire about the clients' preferred future, and they celebrate small progress toward that preferred future. 

The differences are subtle yet not insignificant. On the surface level, they may both seem like a question-based model. AI certainly is driven by many questions and contexts around the questions. The more I practice SF, I notice that it is not a question-based model but a listening-based practice. The biggest difference between the two in my experience is that the AI emphasizes closing the gap between what could be (Dream) and what should be (Design) by building the next steps getting closer to the dream where the SF finds the existing signs of what "might" be as described in the clients' preferred future. 

I hope this would spark a useful conversation in your own practice whether you work with SF or (and) AI as we can celebrate what we share as much as what we each bring to the table for others to consider. I welcome your thoughts, insights, and practice-based questions. Have fun. 

Annina Schmid