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Margaret Moore


How Coaching Works: Appreciative Inquiry

How Coaching Works – The Use of Appreciative Inquiry

Watch How Coaching Works: A Short Movie on You Tube

We released a movie titled "How Coaching Works" as a way to explain coaching via YouTube using an animated cartoon. This blog series aims to share the psychological underpinnings of the coach approach demonstrated in the carton and utilized by master coaches.

Tell me about your day yesterday. Really - take a moment and write down what happened yesterday. I'll be here when you are finished...

Keep writing....

Now, tell me about the best part of your day yesterday. Write about your best memory of yesterday.

Keep writing...

Next, take a look at both of your responses. What do you notice? What are the differences between the two?

If you are like most of us, your first answer was a list focused on the craziness of the day - a hurried, breathtakingly-busy list which included highlights of the annoying or frustrating elements. The first answer usually includes information, but not details, about the day.

Did the best part of your day even make it onto that list? It's not likely.

The second question was called an "appreciative inquiry"; a question that may have inspired you to think differently about your experience with the world. Rather than following our natural tendency to focus on all that is wrong with our day, a simple shift in words can change our focus.

You may have even noticed a difference in how you felt when you considered the best part of your day. Many experience a greater sense of calm or joy, for example, that isn't felt when only recalling what happened during the day.

Because what we focus on grows, coaches encourage clients to look first to the things that are right with their world. The second question may have supported you in savoring that "best experience." Savoring experiences, positive psychologist have learned, is one key to happiness.

This reminds me of the quote a colleague has on her wall, "We do not remember days, we remember moments." Our days get lost and forgotten in the blur of activities, unless we pause to savor the moments.

When we look at our lives appreciatively, we are better able to find the beauty in them, even amidst the inevitable chaos; we leverage our strengths to face our challenges; and, we focus on what we want wish for, rather than what we don't want.

You can use appreciative inquires in your interactions with others, and as reflection tools for yourself. A few of the key elements of appreciative inquiries are that they:

  • Evoke values and ultimate concerns by asking about high point stories or most valued qualities.
  • Use positive questions that build on positive assumptions.
  • Enhance the possibility of storytelling by using open-ended questions that focus on personal experiences.

Here are a few appreciative inquires for you to consider as you move through your day:

  • Recall a time in your life when you felt great joy, a great delight inspired by something exceptionally good or satisfying. What was happening during that time? What led to the emotion? What were you able to do as a result?
  • What was the best choice you made about your health today? What strengths supported you in making that choice? What values did you honor?
  • If you could have any three wishes granted that would support you in being your best self, what would they be?


About the Author

Margaret Moore is the co-director of the McLean/Harvard Medical School Institute of Coaching.