Why use Appreciative Inquiry in your coaching practice?

We have so many positive psychology interventions to choose from, so why would we choose appreciative Inquiry (AI)? Positive psychology has a close relationship with AI, both start at a positive standpoint and look at the positive over negative, the potential of an individual rather than their weaknesses or areas for development and it’s forward-thinking – it really focusses on the future rather than dwelling on and revisiting the past.


What is AI?

AI was developed in the United States by David Cooperrider, originally as a change methodology for organisations going through transformational change.

AI was then ‘adopted’ by the Positive Psychology movement as a tool for individual development because AI helps people to create an image of the future that will help to ‘pull’ them towards a new, preferred way of living. The position that AI comes from is that every situation offers the opportunity for learning, development, and personal happiness.

AI is a person-centered approach to change, and a form of ‘positive questioning’, focused on the individual, they are actively involved in their ‘change process’ from the very start. The process of positive questioning enables them to reframe their personal narrative and grow as a person through their current challenges.


AI and strengths

AI is a process that looks at life through a strengths lens. Strengths are defined as qualities that we have and use such as creativity, curiosity, wisdom, compassion, persistence, love, tenacity, perseverance, courage and kindness (as opposed to a skill like using Excel or being good at woodwork)

We know that when we use our strengths, we are more engaged in what we’re doing (Flow) we’re often much happier and almost always more productive.


When to use AI in Coaching

We often use AI in coaching when someone is ‘stuck’ or a bit lost. It helps them to develop an idea or vision of where they want to be, to get a view of their ideal future and build in the pieces that are really important to them and also to create goals and action plans in order to move toward their preferred way of living or being.


The AI Model

There are 4 stages to the AI model and these stages can take vastly different amounts of time to work through depending on where the client is and what else is happening in their lives. The stages are as follows;

Discovery – ‘What’s currently happening’?

Dream – ‘What is it that you’d like to happen’?

Design – ‘What does your preferred lifestyle look like’?

Destiny – ‘How do you want to refine and maintain this plan’?


Discovery stage

This stage can take a while as the coachee articulates their areas of concern and what’s currently going on for them. Sometimes there are multi-faceted, complex issues that need to be processed and all manner of other issues might come up like appropriately managing boundaries, being assertive and utilising appropriate levels of self-care and compassion. Questions that might help at this stage are;

•       What do you most value about yourself?

•       Tell me about something that you’d like more of in your life?

•       Who are your role models?


Dream stage

The Dream stage of the AI process can be a challenge for some coachees as often they come to coaching with a sense of what they don’t want but not necessarily of what they do want. It can take a while to explore this in the sessions and through invitations to experiment with ideas outside of the sessions. Questions that might help at this stage are;

•       What do you see when you imagine yourself in the next couple of years?

•       What ‘best bits’ do you want to carry from now into the future?

•       Who is around you in this new picture?



The design stage is about experimenting with different ways of being, really thinking through how the future might be and what the coachee wants in there. Questions that might help at this stage are;

•       What would bring your dream alive for you?

•       Who can you trust to support you through this transition?

•       Which smaller fun elements of your dream could you begin to experiment with?



The destiny stage is about refining and maintaining the plan as its being lived or experimented with. Questions that might help at this stage are;

•       What’s the thing that you love the most about your life now?

•       What strengths do you have that are useful and that you are most grateful for?

•       What purpose do you most want to fulfill now?


AI is a really useful coaching tool that helps us to positively tackle problems differently. It’s a practice that’s entirely focused on the individual and their preferences. It also

shows us how our growth rarely can take place without other people and gives us a recognition of the contribution that others make to our lives and work and how important relationships are in our growth and development.



Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
David Cooperrider. The Appreciative Inquiry Handbook:

Read more about Janette Kirk-Willis and her other articles HERE


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