If you’ve looked at the ‘traditional’ appreciative interview format set out in most books about Appreciative Inquiry, you might have decided it wasn’t quite something you could use in a work context. Too touchy-feely, you may have thought, or too focused on patting oneself on the back, something we Brits are rarely comfortable doing.

A typical set of ‘generic’ appreciative interview questions go like this:

  1. What has been your best experience of your professional life – a time when you felt most alive, most engaged, and proud of yourself and your work?
  2. What’s really important about this experience? What do you value most about it?
  3. What do you value most about your work?
  4. Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself and the way that you do your work?

You can never predict what reservations people are going to have. A couple of years back, running an AI workshop for a Church of England diocese, the rural deans and lay church people balked at the word ‘humble’ in question 4, because of course humility is a Christian virtue they were enjoined to develop. Tip: if you’re using AI with a church group, change that question to start ‘without being modest’ or ‘overly modest’.

A few years back we started using a slightly different format, which I have found works better in a business context:

  1. What has been your best experience of your professional life – a time when you felt most alive, most engaged, and proud of yourself and your work?
  2. What’s really important about this experience? What do you value most about it?
  3. What made this experience possible? (culture, leadership, structures, systems, or what?)
  4. If you had one wish for yourself, your team or your organisation, what would it be?

The first two questions stay the same. Of course, if the Appreciative Inquiry is around a particular topic, you can relate the first question to that topic: What’s been your best experience in relation to this topic?

The difference comes in the third and fourth questions. In the ‘standard’ questions, these go deeper into what the interviewee values, generalising out from the specific experience to his or her work and him- or her self.

Question three of the ‘business friendly’ version, by contrast, looks at what needed to be there in order for the great experience or excellent performance to happen. This question has the potential to uncover preconditions for success, best practice, and useful ‘how-tos’ which could lead to a general improvement in performance if they were more widely implemented.

Question four links the ‘Discovery’ stage to the next ‘Dream’ stage by starting to uncover aspirations for the future. The answers you get to this question will be richer and more imaginative as a result of the psychological priming and direction of attention towards resources accomplished by the first three questions. (To be fair, this question appears in the list of ‘generic’ interview questions in many of the AI books as well).

The good thing about these questions in a business context, especially in traditionally ‘modest’ cultures like the UK, is that the interviewee doesn’t feel like they are having to boast about their own abilities. I suspect this reluctance to blow one’s own trumpet may be even more pronounced in some South East Asian cultures, for example.

If you’ve never come across Appreciative Inquiry before, and you’re wondering how the Appreciative Interview can be used in practice, have a look at this article: An Activity To Celebrate Team Success. You may also want to look at this quick overview of Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry trainingPractical Appreciative Inquiry training 21-22 June in Manchester, UK – everything you need to get started using AI in facilitation, organisational change and coaching!

A small-group (only 14 places), highly interactive course with Andy Smith

Business-friendly Appreciative Interview Format

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