What Promises Do Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology Hold For Coaching?

In the article, Building Dialogue for Effective Change:  Coaching with the Five Principles of Appreciative Inquiry authors Orem, Binkert and Clancy apply the principles of appreciative inquiry and positive psychology to the practice of coaching.  The benefits lie in shifting coaching from an "overcoming obstacles," problem-centric process to a possibilities-driven process for effecting change.

The 4 phases of AI coaching connect well with positive psychology's principles of flourishing, building from strengths, operating in "the zone" or flow, and engaging in positive emotional interactions and thoughts more often than negative.  The four phases of appreciative coaching are:


  • Investigating past successes
  • Learning about the client's strengths and abilities
  • Developing goals based on what has worked well in the past
  • Building trust, respect and understanding in the coaching/client relationship

Dreaming or Visioning

  • Envisioning a future state
  • Setting goals to get there


  • Determining options
  • Identifying actions and steps
  • Being open to experimentation

Delivering and Sustaining

  • Supporting clients as they swim in the waters of creativity, innovation and iteration
  • Extending inquiry (discovery) into their reflections on how they execute their goals & meet challenges and create new opportunities
  • Encouraging and supporting as milestones are achieved
  • Highlighting what is working, new learning

So often coaching, particularly in organizations, bears the stigma of a process designed to overcome weaknesses or to correct limiting behaviors.  Coaching, according to the International Coaching Foundation (ICF) is anything but that. ICF defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential...Every client is creative, resourceful and whole."

Mary McGuinness, M.Ed., PCC is a career transition and shift-it coach based in Chicago, IL USA.
Mary uses visual coaching and design-thinking techniques and practices to accompany her clients on a journey of self-discovery that results in creative solutions, faster results, and happier, more fulfilling careers.  

Mary McGuinness