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What is appreciative learning?

There are two main senses of ‘appreciate’; it means to notice, try to understand, and savour the positive value of a person or thing

The concept of appreciation is central to the study and practice of living well. There are two main senses of ‘appreciate’. By default, it means to notice, try to understand, and savour the positive value of a person or thing.

This matters for wellbeing, because good human experiences are largely composed of taking a conscious interest in environments and events.

Enhance in value

A rarer and more elusive meaning is to enhance in value (transitively or intransitively). In the transitive sense, we recognise that appreciation isn’t a purely passive, mental act, it can also be interactive and constructive.

For example, you can quietly appreciate a meal or a piece of music on your own, but if you appreciate it explicitly, together with other people, you are adding value to the thing you are appreciating.

The same happens in social interaction: instead of silently noting the goodness of a person or the social quality of an organisation, you can add value by talking about what it is you like about those forms of social goodness, and interactively coming to an appreciation of how such goodness occurs.

When as a result of such interactions, the social climate of a family or an organisation improves, we can say that its social value has ‘appreciated’ through our interactive appreciation of it.

Appreciative enquiry

The term ‘appreciative enquiry’ refers to a highly productive and influential academic and socio-economic movement in business and management, which promotes applied research approaches that emphasise strengths and enjoyments at interpersonal and organisational levels much as the positive psychology movement (with which it overlaps strongly) promotes these attitudes and capabilities at individual level.

Bushe (2007, 2011) has argued in favour of balancing appreciation of ‘positive’ goods with the second sense of appreciation as a ‘generative’ form of enquiry which creates new ways of looking at social processes and hence opens up new options for action.

See also: aesthetic appreciation; mindset; positivity; positive leadership; positive organisational scholarship; savouring

Further reading:

Cooperrider, David L., and Diana Whitney (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Cooperrider, David L., Diana Whitney, and Jacqueline M Stavros (2008) Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change. 2nd ed. Berrett-Koehler

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