What NLP Can Learn From Appreciative Inquiry

NLP AnchoringRecently I was interviewed by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel for her ‘Positivity Strategist’ podcast about the links between NLP and Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry, if you haven’t come across it before, is a method for bringing about change based on finding what’s working and building on it, rather than trying to analyse and fix problems.

During the conversation a couple of connections occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before. Here’s one, about state elicitation and anchoring.

The way I was taught anchoring on my NLP Practitioner training was to start by asking the client ‘Remember a time when you were totally <x’d>’ (where x is the resource state you are aiming to anchor). Of course, the best time to anchor a state is when it’s naturally occurring, but you’re not always fortunate enough to be on the spot when that happens, so evoking a remembered state is a good second best.

I’ve written and podcasted before about the shortcomings of trying to jump straight into a resource memory like this. We can also learn something from Appreciative Inquiry’s idea of the ‘appreciative interview’, in which you interview someone about a peak experience  – a time when they were fully engaged and at their best. This will usually shed light on their strengths and abilities, and evoke achievements, things they do well, and things they are proud of and motivated by.

The mark of a good appreciative interview is when the interviewee begins to lose herself in the story and feel the same emotions she felt at the time – in other words, when you’ve elicited the desired state. Telling the story of the resource memory will engage more of the person’s brain and body than just giving a brief description or ‘headline’ for it.

So a question we can borrow from appreciative interviewing would go something like this:

“Tell me about a time when you felt <x> – a really good example of it” or “What’s one of the times when you’ve felt <x> most strongly?”

(Note: “Tell me about your best experience of feeling <x>” would work for many people, but occasionally you will encounter someone who gets hung up on which memory is the best example – we’re going for a strong evocation of the state here, and it’s better to go with a strong enough one than to distract yourself worrying over which memory is the very best).

If you would like to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry, here’s a good place to start. If you want to learn more about typical structures for appreciative interviews, and how you can also use them for values elicitation, discovering best practice and conditions for success, and how to link the discovery of what’s working now to building a vision for the future (all very useful things for a coach to be able to do), you can find example questions here and here.

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