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Building on strengths

One of the key ideas in Positive Psychology is that business-as-usual psychology has primarily been focused on what is wrong with people. In the world at large too, in education and business, for example, it has been commonplace to focus on correcting an individual's weaknesses rather on identifying and building on strengths. Such a mindset means that criticism is much more evident than appreciation.

One of the main planks of POS is that managers are much more likely to enhance employees’ performance if they can help them to identify and build on their strengths rather than remedying and fixing their weaknesses. Evidence collected by the Gallup organisation also shows that being able to use your strengths at work is a key ingredient in employee engagement.

According to Professor David Cooperrider traditionally techniques to improve organisations were also based on a deficit model and took a critical, and hence negative, approach: 'In the past, organizational interventions typically focused on error detection, gap analysis, and fixing problems.' Professor Cooperrider is one of the main architects of an approach to organisational development called ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. As a form of working with organisations it started in the 1960s and has evolved from there. Professor Cooperrider describes it in the following way:

Appreciative Inquiry is an process of search and discovery designed to value, prize, and honor. It assumes that organizations are networks of relatedness and that these networks are 'alive'. The objective of Appreciative Inquiry is to touch the 'positive core' of organizational life. The core is asked by asking positive questions. … In a self-organizing way, the organization begins to construct a more desirable future.

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