As an associate coach with Bowland Solutions, I am pleased to share a recent guest blog post I wrote for them.  Bowland Solutions work with businesses to provide everything you need to ensure your 360 Degree Feedback and Performance Appraisal processes are efficient and effective.

When I was a child I had an autograph book.  Apart from once queuing (with some trepidation) to get Darth Vader’s signature, it was mainly full of messages from friends and family.  My Grandma’s message to me was this (apparently an old Maori proverb):

“Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

I was struck by its optimism and ever since then the idea of having a positive outlook has always stayed with me.   I have come to see how the more you focus your attention on the positive things, the more likely you are to notice them.  I also recognise how appreciating these can help you to see further positive possibilities and even create more ‘sunshine’.

I am interested in how people apply this concept in their working lives; how we use the idea of focusing on the positive in order to develop performance (in individuals, teams and businesses) and how we use it to guide our decision making.

Long after my Grandma wrote this message, I came across the theory of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a method of problem solving pioneered by Cooperrider & Srivastva, Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s.  The essence of this approach is a belief that the questions we ask are never neutral; they help us to move in the direction where we focus most persistently.  Rather than looking at ways to ‘fix a problem’ (asking questions about what isn’t working well, what is wrong or weak) this approach looks at how to ‘accelerate or enhance’ by asking what is good or working well in order to discover new or untapped opportunities.

The slant of the question influences our perceptions, feelings and motivation to change….

If our focus is largely on the less good or negative elements, will positive change and development always be an uphill struggle?  Also, how many people can see or hear 10 great things and then feel deflated and fixated by just one perceived bad thing?

I am not suggesting that all negative elements be ignored, rather that the angle taken to review and evolve it can help determine the outcome.  In fact, I have witnessed great benefit had by individuals who received apparently negative feedback and were inspired to make positive behavioural changes as a result. There were a number of ingredients that enabled this:

  1. the recipients were hungry to learn
  2. the person helping them review their feedback was skilled in coaching and asking AI questions to explore and discover meaning, value and potential
  3. the overall focus was positive and forward thinking

It is often this last point that really helps someone to galvanise their self-belief, motivation and action.   For example, try asking yourself this positive line of inquiry in relation to your career:

  • What do I enjoy about my job – what inspires me?
  • What am I really good at?
  • What attracted me to the career I am in or the company I work with?
  • What are the possibilities for me to develop further or become more fulfilled?
  • If success was guaranteed, what bold steps would I take?

Asking these powerful questions can help steer you (and in this case your career) in the direction you really want to go.  Think how much more inspired and proactive you are likely to feel using this appreciative route as opposed to “what do I hate about my job, what irritates me most, what am I least good at”.

When next reviewing your own feedback (or helping someone else to review theirs), try to focus questions on your strengths, what themes you are noticing, what assumptions you could test, where you add most value and how you could further apply this to benefit you/your customers/the business.  Consciously frame questions with the possibility of positive change, learning and creating forward movement……and let any shadows fall behind you.