“How does it feel to realise that?” is a great question to ask in an appreciative interview whenever someone tells you about some ‘lightbulb moment’ or a time when they made a real difference.

This week I was facilitating an Appreciative Inquiry session for Dreamcatchers, a small charity that does solution-focused youth work, to help them clarify their ‘brand’ and how to communicate it to various stakeholders (more about how to use Appreciative Inquiry in branding in a future posting).

The management team were deeply into appreciative interviews (using a variation on the ‘standard’ appreciative interview questions) when a late-comer arrived – so I stepped in to conduct his interview myself. As often happens, it took him a while to warm up to the question “What has been the best experience of working in the Dreamcatchers?”  At first he came out with a fairly generic answer about making a difference to people’s lives. In fact we had completed the interview sheet when he said “I’ve just thought of another one.”

He went on to tell me about a presentation he and a colleague had done about guns, gangs and girls in gangs – a girl who saw the presentation had come up to him months later and said that it had saved her from joining the gang she had been on the fringes of, and helped her to straighten out her life. He realised more fully than before that the work he was doing really made a difference to people’s lives, possibly saving that girl’s life and maybe – through her example – having a positive influence on the lives of other girls that he’d never even met.

So I asked him, “How does it feel to realise that?” What does this question do? Firstly, it encourages the interviewee to become aware of how they feel about the realisation. It amplifies positive emotions – which, following the Positive Principle and Barbara Fredrickson’s ‘Broaden and Build’ theory, make an individual more effective and are vital for positive organisational change. Secondly, the enhanced emotion will tend to make the memory of the realisation more vivid and easier to recall in future, so it becomes a reference experience that strengthens the individual’s self-concept and identity, helping them to be more motivated in their role.

I originally came across this question in NLP, where it is used in therapy or coaching to help a client ‘lock in’ a breakthrough or realisation and prevent them from forgetting it and slipping back into the pre-breakthrough state.

Naturally, since the question explicitly asks the person to focus on their feelings, you would only ask it about ‘positive’ events and realisations.

A question to amplify positive emotion

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