Taking an Appreciative Approach to Lasting Behavioral Change

One way to achieve behavioral change is to show individuals why it’s in their best interest to engage in the desired behavior. However, motivating them to sustain the change in the long-term often is a challenge. Though there literally are dozens of ways to encourage individuals to continue the new behavior over time, in this article we address one tool that represents a powerful and effective way to achieve this outcome.

Taking an appreciative approach in the workplace (or at home) means we regard situations and people from a positive, enthusiastic, and future-oriented point of view. It means seeing the proverbial glass as being half full instead of half empty. We focus on the positive instead of on the negative, on successes rather than on failures. We ask questions that point to the future, which we can influence, rather than to the past, which cannot be changed. We recognize people for the value they provide. The language that we use and the questions that we ask deliberately point people in the direction of positive answers, even in negative situations. For example, when something has gone wrong, instead of asking what caused the problem or who messed up, ask what was done well in the situation. Use the answers as the foundation for identifying how to ensure success in the future.

Why is taking an appreciative approach such a powerful tool for sustaining change? Here are three reasons:

  1. By recognizing the value that people provide and the contributions they make instead of focusing on their missteps, you encourage them to respond positively to requests to change their behavior.
  2. Most people respond positively when asked to focus on their strengths, and defensively when confronted with their mistakes.
  3. Most individuals are eager to repeat past successes, and respond enthusiastically to opportunities to do so.

For examples of appreciative questions you can use in the workplace, I invite you to read our article Transformative Questions for the Workplace.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.


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