This post could be enough of a brain workout if you only practiced pronouncing the word “simultaneity”! Try it: si-mul-ta-ne-ity, again, simul-tane-ity, simultaneity. Let’s consider that a sufficient warm up and delve deeper into the Simultaneity Principle, the third principle of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), following the Constructionist Principle, and the Poetic Principle (on which we've previously published blogs).
Ongoing questioning. Whether aware of it or not, we are continuously asking questions. These can be conscious and outspoken such as when we ask our child “did you finish your homework?” or our colleagues “how did the meeting go?” In addition to our inquiries to others, we ask ourselves questions all day long even when on auto-pilot: “what should I wear today?, when will this meeting end?, why is she giving me that look?” All of our choices, our actions, and even our emotions, result from those implicit questions. So what happens if we rephrase them?
We live in the world our questions create, is a common phrase in the AI world. Just like the Constructionist and Poetic Principles empower us to change our reality, controlling our inner Q&A brings awareness. Our decisions and actions become deliberate. The future that unfolds is the one we chose intentionally, not out of habit. Of course it isn’t realistic to monitor every thought we have, but depending on our goals, practicing new questions can help us develop new behaviors. By asking deliberate questions, with genuine interest and openness, we unleash our curiosity, so that we start seeing the world with the same sense of awe children have.
There are no neutral questions. Even seemingly neutral questions are fateful. Depending on their wording, they can hold us back, leave us unchanged, or propel us forward. Whether evaluating yourself or someone else, asking “what went well during this conversation?” creates growth versus “what should I have said differently during this conversation?” focuses our attention to its shortcomings, and “good thing this conversation is over, what’s next on my to-do list?” makes the conversation less meaningful. Check this article in Harvard Business Review for more examples of questions leaders should never ask.
Inquiry and change are simultaneous. The very first question is critical. The moment it is raised, it sets the tone for the rest of the dialogue. It influences our relationships. It is not the answers that matter most, it is the very first step of formulating the question. Yet it is not about asking the perfect question either, it is about “finding the question that takes us to the right place” says Jackie Kelm in Appreciative Living: The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life. Rainer Maria Rilke invites us to “Love the questions themselves” because change happens inside of us the moment the words are spoken.
The unconditional positive question. As the phrase Appreciative Inquiry suggests, we want our questions to be appreciative, or positive. The goal of the unconditional positive question is to uncover the best, or the positive core, in people, situations, or organizations. As we have learned already, AI wants us to ask what we want more of, not what we want less of, because what we focus on grows. In this interview, Kathy Becker, CEO of the Center for Appreciative Inquiry, speaks with another AI practitioner, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, and demonstrates the power of unconditional positive questions.
Appreciative Inquiry is generative. Positive questions build on past successes to generate positive emotions like wonder, curiosity, excitement, and inspiration. A small shift from “did it go well?” to “what went well?” can make all the difference in the energy that is generated by the conversation. There is no doubt that appreciative questions challenge our assumptions and get us to think more deeply. That is why the changes they generate are longer-lasting. This is particularly true if the process is shared with others.
Since we are constantly asking ourselves and others questions, why not harness this potential and be more conscious about our inquiries and how they impact our lives? Perhaps the most important lesson of the Simultaneity Principle is that our questions have an immediate effect on how our reality unfolds. I invite you to play with your questions today, here is a fantastic resource for inspiration the Encyclopedia of Positive Questions (Whitney, Trosten-Bloom, Cooperrider, & Kaplin, 2004).