Creativity Pathway #157: Be Careful What You Ask For

My well-meaning Congressman sent his constituents a pamphlet announcing his upcoming Open Door Meetings. Upon opening it, I found the question “Do you have a problem with a federal program or agency?” in bold letters.

As I read it, my mind immediately filled with a list of complaints. I could feel myself becoming charged with energy and ready to share my opinions about what has gone wrong with our government. And, I envisioned dozens of angry citizens attending this heated debate with the same energy and intention.

Is this really what my Congressman had intended? Did he desire an angry mob focused on problems and complaints? Or was his objective to engage in conversations about our needs and desires? While his question didn’t lay the foundation for it, I believe the latter is true.

A foundational assumption of the appreciative approach to life, is that the very act of asking questions will influence those who answer and that those questions shape what we see. This was certainly demonstrated by my negative response to the content of the Congressman’s question and its inclusion of the words “Do you have a problem?”

Whatever the situation, if we are looking to encourage creativity, solution-seeking, and a sense of hope, it is beneficial to design our questions from the appreciative perspective. Instead of asking “What’s the problem?” consider shifting focus to “What do you wish?” “What would you like to be present?” or “What’s working well so far?” 

Author Patty Hansen remarked, “You create your opportunities by asking for them.” I believe this is true in the appreciative sense as well. When we are careful about what we ask for, and more deliberate with the content of our questions, we have a greater influence over the responses we create in ourselves and in others.

Coaching Inquiries: How could positive questions positively influence your answers? When have you asked a powerful question that changed your life? Read more about Appreciative Inquiry, and its many applications, in our previous Provisions series Click?

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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Erika Jackson (
LifeTrek Coaching International
Columbus, OH  •   U.S.A.

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