The Appreciative Coaching (AC) framework focuses on uncovering the individuals’ innate strengths and abilities to help them move forward and realize their dreams. Appreciative Coaching, like AI, sees the world as a place of endless possibilities, where innovation and creativity thrive, as individuals are motivated to acknowledge themselves and turn their dreams into reality by replicating behaviors from present and past successes (Orem, Binkert & Clancy, 2007).
Orem et al., (2007, p. 11) believe that
… if people manage their strengths and past accomplishments wisely, they can achieve far greater benefits than if they toil away at incremental improvements to their weaknesses.
This is a fundamental principal of AC. When using the AC approach, rather than paying attention to problems and obstacles and what causes problems, the coach focuses on what motivates and pulls the client forward. This results in a shift not only in how the coach assesses the client, but also in how the coach reframes, selects questions to ask; refocuses the client, chooses interventions, and which “homework” assignments to give (Kaufman, 2006).
Orem et al., (2007, p. 18.) suggest that during the first session with a client, a coach begins their discovery process, focusing on the strengths and accomplishments of the client, by asking the following four questions:
- What gives life to you now?
- Describe a high point or peak experience in your life or work up to now.
- What do you most value about yourself, your relationships and the nature of your work?
- What one or two things do you want more of?”
Psychometric assessments can enhance the coach’s understanding of the client, and can help the client gain profound insights into themselves and their relationships with others, helping to build self awareness (Scoular, 2007). The DiSC is a research-validated assessment (DiSC Classic Validation Report, 2008) which defines an individual’s instinctive behavioral style and preferences. It is a self assessment tool which is used to improve communications, relationships and productivity. It is widely used in the workplace, and by some coaches. These style preferences (which are all equally valuable) show how an individual is likely to behave in various situations (communications, conflicts, reactions to change, etc.). A DiSC report indicates how the client solves problems, acts in conflictual situations, is motivated, and what causes stress. In addition to describing the behavioral style of each of the four main types, the DiSC report includes probable demotivators and obstacles to optimum performance. There are several DiSC instruments (e.g., The “Work of Leaders Profile” includes recommendations for the effective management of each style). To help build more effective relationships, the DiSC report includes strategies for increasing effectiveness with each style – when trying to connect, when problems need to be solved and when things get tense. It is useful both personally and professionally. as it suggests how to adapt to a particular style to interact more effectively with others.
Here is a short description of each style: (Everything DiSC Work of Leaders Profile, 2011)
a) D (Dominance) is a direct and decisive style. Individuals high in D are driven, confident, risk-takers and action oriented, motivated by winning, success and authority. Limitations include impatience, lack of concern for others and insensitivity.
b) i (Influence) is an optimistic and collaborative style. Individuals high in I are energetic and enthusiastic, motivated by group activities, social recognition and friendly relationships. Limitations include disorganization, lack of follow-through and impulsiveness.
c) S (Steadiness) is an amiable style. Individuals high in S are affirming, inclusive and humble, motivated by cooperation, appreciation, stable environments and service. Limitations include indecisiveness, resistance to change and being overly accommodating.
d) C (Conscientiousness) is an analytical style. Individuals high in C are deliberate, humble and firm, motivated by attention to detail, quality and their ability to use their expertise. Limitations include being isolated, overly critical and a tendency to overanalyze.
(The DiSC reports emphasize that although everyone is a blend of all four styles, most individuals lean more strongly to one or two styles. For purposes of brevity, this paper will focus on the four main styles and not on combinations of styles.)
Coaching with the DiSC
When using the DiSC for coaching, the results will enable to coach to understand the client, perhaps more quickly than if they did not have this information. This allows the coach to customize coaching questions and language to the client’s style, building a deeper relationship. The coach will brief the client on the contents of the DiSC report, and support the client, answering any questions, until the client has a good understanding of their own style and the implications for this when interacting with others. The client learns about his own needs, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and strategies for success. By learning how others perceive them, clients can understand how to relate more effectively to others, which helps to promote collaboration and reduce conflicts. In addition, the client learns how to identify the styles of others, so they have a better understanding of the motivations and priorities of other styles and how they all differ.
Differences Between a Problem-Solving and an Appreciative Approach
Using a problem-solving approach, if a client (say a style D) was having a conflict with another style (e.g., a style S), the focus might be on when those kind of problems had occurred before, and how the client had handled them; on how/why the client has those kinds of problems with that style of colleague; and if the client has these kinds of issues with other styles. The focus may be on the limitations of the D style (impatience, lack of concern for others and insensitivity), and/or the limitations of the S style (indecisiveness, resistance to change and being overly accommodating). However, as Orem et al (2007, p. xv) state: “By focusing on problems, our clients sometimes had difficulty thinking beyond them.”
In AC, the coach sets a positive context for the client and uses appreciative language. Using an AC approach, the focus would be on the client’s strengths (Individuals high in D are driven, confident, risk-takers and action oriented, motivated by winning, success and authority) and what they are already doing well. The coach uses “pivoting” – turning the attention of the client to what he does want (rather than to what he does not want) (Orem et al., 2007). The D is results-oriented, so how could this aspect of the client’s behavior – his drive – be used to support him in dealing with this conflict? Now the coach might elicit from the client ways he could harness his strengths to accomplish his goals – how could his drive and results orientation be used to ensure project completion? In this scenario, the client may decide that he will focus on the needs of his S colleague. If the client looked appreciatively at the strengths of the S style person, the focus of the conversation would be very different to the one depicted in the first scenario. D can initiate the conversation with S and focus on the strengths both of them bring to the table, maximizing their strengths, to ensure the project will be completed successfully.
In this paper, the author was focusing mainly on just the problem-focused versus solution-focused piece of coaching, which was outlined in the example above with the “D” client. However, AC has an even more fundamental premise than that – appreciative language has to be used in the session. This does not come naturally, even to coaches. Initially, the authors of Appreciative Coaching (Orem, Binkert and Clancy) had difficulties tying to become comfortable using appreciative language (especially when faced with clients wanting to discuss their problems). The authors didn’t like using words such as: status quo, goals, skill gaps, action plans, preferring the use of appreciative words such as potential, affirmation, dreams, images (2007, p. 193). The authors taped their sessions so they could review their use of words, and through practice became more facile, gradually increasing their use of generative language and decreasing their use of problem-solving oriented words.
From the research conducted, it seems that an Appreciative Coaching approach when using the DiSC would definitely result in more effective coaching. A focus on the use of appreciative language is a necessity. The coach can focus on the strengths the DiSC report highlights, on the work priorities and motivators. The coach would want to minimize the “negative” aspects of the report – the stressors, fears and limitations. The majority of the DiSC report does spotlight the client’s strengths, so this definitely a plus, as the coach can highlight the client’s success in their solutions-focused conversations.
After conducting this research, the author of this paper is left with a dilemma: The DiSC report includes limitations attributed to the client’s style, and people naturally focus on the negative (Kauffman, 2007, in Lavendt). Therefore, would a coach with an appreciative approach really want to use the DiSC (or any other similar instrument) in their coaching practice? It would seem to be at odds with the fundamental principles of AC …
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