You can use the appreciative interview for a lot of different purposes. Each time the questions will need to be adjusted to the purpose and the organization. I use the appreciative interview to deepen my understanding of both the current and the future state of:
- Personal development
They can be used in retrospectives, but also in planning the future. An appreciative interview follows a specific structure.
Structure of an appreciative interview
01 Introduce the purpose
Introduce yourself and describe your role in the project, your job or whatever other identifying information you wish to offer. Ensure anonymity if needed. Explain what an appreciative interview is. Make arrangements for what to do when you run out of time.
02 The interview
Time to ask your questions. Let the person you are interviewing tell his or her story; don’t tell your stories or offer your own comments or opinions about their experiences. Be genuinely curious about their experiences, thoughts and feelings. Some people will take longer to think about their answers—allow for silence. If somebody doesn’t want to or can’t answer any of the interview questions, or if you run out of time, that’s okay. I will explain how to deal with negativity later on in this blog.
Explain what will happen with the interview notes if you have not already done so during the introduction. If you need to interview other people before this interviewee will hear from you again, let them know. If you expect next steps from them, make these next steps explicit.
A great example of an introduction
Thank you for meeting with me.
I’d like to briefly summarize why we’re having this conversation today. We’re trying to learn about moments when things went right. This will help us at [x] live by our values in our everyday work and be our best.
Before we start, I would like to explain a little bit about what we are going to do because it may be a little different from what you are used to. This is going to be what we call an appreciative interview. I am going to ask you questions about times when you experienced things working at their best here. Many times, we try to ask questions about things that aren’t working well—the problems—so that we can fix them. In this case, we are trying to find out about the things at their best—the successes—so that we can find out what works and why, and find ways to infuse more of it into our work.
I want to be sure you understand that what I hear from you will remain anonymous; your name will not be used, but your stories and quotes will be included as part of the collection of interviews from across our organization to reach our purpose. And it’s possible that your anonymous stories and quotes may be used in public presentations and publications. Is that okay with you?
Gather personal background
As we get started, I’d like to know a little bit about you. What’s your role here and how long have you been here? (Note: Take care not to record information that would reveal the identity of the person you are interviewing.)
Examples of appreciative questions
“An appreciative question is a question that seeks to uncover and bring out the best in a person, a situation or an organization.”-Whitney et al., 2002: 89
Review and reflect questions
- When did your process or service deliver the best performance? What did this performance look like? What made it possible?
- For which customers does this process deliver the best results consistently?
- When do you feel at your best working in this process? What works well?
- How does this process deliver value for your customers?
- When is collaboration with value stream partners at it's best? What makes this possible?
How to deal with negativity
It is in people's nature to think about negative things as well as positive things. An appreciative interview is not about shutting down negative input or thoughts as soon as they occur. Respect for people is central to this interview technique as well as the appreciative approach. This means that you can redirect attention back towards the appreciative view in several ways. The strategy you choose depends on the severity of the negative emotions.
Some final tips and best practices
With appreciative questions it is not about asking as many as possible, but about getting to the root cause of the success, dream or good experience. So be sure to ask follow up questions after your initial question. The most effective way is to ask for feelings and sensory information.
Where some interview techniques are about getting factual statements. Appreciative interviews are about narratives and experience. These narratives give a wealth of information that can greatly enhance your understanding of the situation. You can find more tips in my appreciative inquiry toolbox.