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Discovering Your Positive Work Self Through "Appreciative Inquiry"

By Karma Kitaj, PhD

Describe a time(s) in your life that you remember as a high-point experience, when you were totally engaged and felt alive and vibrant.

What do you value most about yourself and your work?

What are the factors that give life to the organization where you work now or most recently worked?

Imagine your work life in a year from now, exactly as you'd like it to be, your dream job. What have you contributed to make this dream job come true?

These are questions (modified a bit) asked by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, authors of Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, which describes a method of transforming organizations that is based on valuing yourself and others, on recognizing the best you have to offer, on prizing, esteeming, and honoring. It involves exploration and discovery and asking questions to find new potential and possibilities.

Does this sound different from how you've experienced many work meetings? Are those often based on deficits, problems, fixing lacks? Are you part of an organization filled with people who mope and complain about too much work, too little work, fears of layoffs, envy about what someone else got and you didn't? Time for a change in the narrative, in the story about you and your work?

In AI, the focus is always on the positive, on eliciting from each employee, from the maintenance staff to the CEO, the stories about what has engaged you this week, what has made you joyful about coming to work, what makes you committed to doing the best possible job for yourself, your employer, the environment, your stakeholders.

AI-trained staff (and anyone can practice these principles) take organizations through a series of steps, which they call the "4-D Cycle." It involves: Discovery, Dreaming or visioning, Designing or creating new possibilities, and Destiny or implementing the best of the possibilities, taking into account your highest purpose.

How do these ideas apply to you - who may have been laid off and experiencing difficulty even getting interviews? Or you who work in an environment of scarcity thinking, of me-against-you, of impending troubles?

If you believe that like attracts like, that negativity attracts the same, it follows that positivity attracts positivity. There's evidence for this in our own individual system - the more we focus on positive affirmations, the better we feel. In social situations, it's the people who are expansive, excited, engaged who attract positive attention. I call that "appealability." The newly burgeoning field of positive psychology, spearheaded by Martin Seligman (see his Authentic Happiness website for lots of free articles and questionnaires) trains practitioners to treat clients from this perspective. Sports and performance coaches teach about the power of envisioning just how you want your performance to be, to practice imagining the best way you will execute it. In the wider universe, there's now evidence from many mainstream researchers that living in positive states of consciousness, such as willingness, acceptance that you are the source and creator of your experience, love, joy, and so on maximizes the amount of those states in the universe. On the other hand, shame, guilt, anger, fear, apathy, grief, do the same - they attract more of those negative energetic states of consciousness.

What is the positive story that you can create about your life circumstance today? What do you appreciate about yourself, about the people you come in contact with, about the environment you live in, about all that you value? Expand upon that narrative and live it today.