International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry


Author Archive

Life in Verse

On Fear

by Robert Neimeyer

In fear’s noose
we stiffen, freeze,
build walls between
self and other

We place ourselves
under a protective order,
lock down,
shelter in place

We sense threat,
pull back, cut off,
safeguard a self under siege

Fear is about
hardening the body,
focusing on the threat,
harboring the hurt,
running from imagined loss

It is about
fencing … distancing … censoring
saying goodbye

It is a world of
limits … orders … alerts … masks

In its grip
we strangle the life
struggling to be born

Acknowledge fear


On Faith

by Neena Verma

the quiet call of soul
an invocation for life
in grief and growth

We hold ourselves gentle
In our own embrace
snug and soft,
safe and strong

We sense life
and feel light
and sing in silence

Faith is about
being in surrender
to not-knowing,
and staying awake
to what wants to happen

It is about
sitting in awe and avowing

It is a call for
letting-go and letting-come

In the darkest despair
hope illuminates
and life calls

Invoke faith


On Loss

by Neena Verma

In loss’s clutch
we writhe, wrench,
slide with despair
in cracks and crevices

We drown ourselves
in the ocean of despair,
lose breathe,
cry, search and yearn

We feel numb,
frail, fragile, frightened
longing for affirmation

stifles all senses,
blinds vision,
invades with pain
intrudes with grief

It is about
knocking on door
that wouldn’t open
about clutching-on

It is a cave
dark … dingy
fear… anger … sadness

In its grip
life gets smothered
yet wants to resurrect

Accept loss


On Love

by Robert Neimeyer

In love’s embrace
we soften, flow,
bridge gaps of
self and other

We usher ourselves
into broader fields,
open up,
invite others over for tea

We sense possibility,
step up, reach out,
affirm our common bond

Love is about
releasing the body,
broadening our vision,
remembering the joy,
sensing possible growth

It is about
meeting … sharing
saying hello again

It is a world of
play … touch
iguanas … elephants

In its caress
we nurture the life
yearning to be born

Choose love

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Loss, Grief, and Attachment in Life Transitions – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.


Loss, Grief, and Attachment in Life Transitions:
A Clinician’s Guide to Secure Base Counseling

By Jakob van Wielink, Leo Wilhelm and Denise van Geelen-Merks

Routledge, 2020

ISBN – 978-1-5230-9401-1

Having read and benefitted from several books on the intense themes of loss, bereavement, trauma and grief, my search for a book that would offer subject knowledge, case-based understanding, food for reflection and practice toolkit all in one place was meaningfully fulfilled by the seemingly unassuming yet richly endowed book called Loss, Grief, and Attachment in Life Transitions. This book stirred my curiosity by its intriguing description – “an attachment-informed grief counselling framework and a new way of understanding non-death loss”. However, as I immersed myself in the book, it offered so much more than the promise that its brief description holds, helping me gain a nuanced understanding of grief work across various realms of loss and trauma.

Core Proposition

Grounding their proposition in the attachment theory of British psychiatrist John Bowlby, the authors explain the importance of taking a secure base (safety, care, inspiration, facilitation, energy) approach to grief counselling. Explaining the four-quadrant attachment styles as arranged on the simultaneous dimensions of “Self/Other” and “Avoidance-of-intimacy/Separation-anxiety”, the authors highlight the importance of a secure attachment style since the helping-professionals represent attachment figures in the context of grief counselling. Such a style balances a positive view of the self and others; low separation anxiety and low avoidance of intimacy; being available and being present; and caring and daring, thereby supporting the therapeutic process in a secure way.

The authors deftly weave together several concepts into a coherent model of a transition cycle which forms the framework for grief-counselling work that they teach with care and competence.

The six-faceted Transition Cycle model, the central concept of this book, guides secure base counselling work that helping-professionals can do with clients going through loss, grief and life-transitions. The authors explain each facet along with its flip side that is likely to manifest in case of solidified grief. These facets include – contact (flip side – isolation); attachment (flip side – detaching or clinging); intimacy (flip side – avoiding intimacy); loss and separation (flip side – denying loss and separation); grief and integration (flip side – resistance); and meaning reconstruction (flip side – meaninglessness, cynicism).

While their focus remains on explaining the healthy side, the authors take care to caution against labelling the flip sides as purely negative or unhealthy. Instead their advice to the helping-professional is to stay mindful of the natural oscillation that the clients may experience, and aid them in moving towards the ultimate goal of meaningful reconstruction.

Addressing a wide range of factors and differences such as the bio-psycho-social, emotional, relational, gender, age, and even acquired brain injury – the authors dwell at length on the duality of grief journey between its loss-oriented and restoration-oriented aspects.

Though all chapters of the book are richly relevant, the most valuable part of the book for me waited in chapter seven, devoted to meaning-reconstruction, the sixth and final facet of the transition cycle. Combining the dual-process model of Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut with the meaning-reconstruction model of Robert Neimeyer, the authors present an insightful matrix to understand and practise meaning-reconstruction, explained along twin dimensions of loss/restoration-orientation and positive/negative meaning-making.

What stands out for me

The authors explore and explain the phenomenon of loss in its full dimensionality – both the locatable and tangible loss such as death, as well as ambiguous and less-tangible losses such as lost dreams, illness or an unfulfilled desire to have children. They also address primary loss, such as parents’ divorcing while a child is still young and its secondary manifestation such as resultant loss of sense of security or having to bear the reflected tension of the parental conflict.

The authors insist on maintaining a client-centered approach to grief work, underlining the responsibility that the helping professional must assume to honour the client’s natural way and pace while staying self-guarded to avoid – dispensing advice, problem-solving, clichés, diversion, dilution or leading questions.

Discussing the issue of resiliently coping with trauma, the authors pay attention to neurological development and the role of brain functioning. They also touch upon the possibility and dynamics of growth after loss. They explore the generally ignored and unacknowledged issue of grief in the context of work, delving into both the employees’ personal grief that organizations can help deal with through supportive employee care initiatives, and the organizations as a source of loss.

The final chapter of “dialogue” feels practically like a masterclass on attachment-informed grief work, offering elaborate guidance on designing a complete counselling program along with detailed tips about individual session dialogues. The book is richly endowed with meaningful and practical exercises. Having tried (with positive impact) some in my client work, I find it both difficult as well as unfair to pick one over the others. That said, I do wish to acknowledge with gratitude the virtual dream story exercise (Page 152) that impacted me immensely at a personal level.

This book offers a comprehensive resource to helping-professionals working with clients dealing with loss, grief, trauma and life transitions. The authors have thoughtfully designed each chapter with case-studies, knowledge segments, counseling dialogue transcripts, questions for self-reflection and exercises for skill-building. Competently combining theory and practice, the authors richly reference and build upon several research-grounded models. Their writing flows with ease, elegance, appeal and impact. I gained much more than my expectation. I highly recommend this book to not just the grief counsellors and coaches, but as much to those who are themselves coping with grief and trauma, to caregivers, and just about anyone keen to learn about attachment-theory guided grief work.

The book is easily available on all online marketplaces.

Jakob van Wielink, M.A., is an international grief counselor and executive coach. He is a partner at De School voor Transitie in the Netherlands, a faculty mentor at the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition in the USA and is affiliated with IMD Business School’s (Advanced) High Performance Leadership Program in Switzerland and Singapore.



Leo Wilhelm, M.Sc., is a grief counselor, author, executive coach and advisor to De School voor Transitie in the Netherlands.




Denise van Geelen-Merks, M.Sc., is a psychologist, coach and couples’ therapist, and is licensed for systemic work in the Netherlands.

The gift of the human spirit: Resilient greetings from your friends in Iceland

At a time in human history where good leadership at a global level is crucial for each one of us, I am pleased to present our Voice from the Field for this issue of AI Practitioner. Gudrún Snorradóttir from Reykjavik, Iceland emphasises the importance of community, especially in our world today where COVID-19 has challenged our daily living. With an appreciative lens, Gudrún provides us with a glimpse of the human spirit and how connected we all are.

The gift of the human spirit: Resilient greetings from your friends in Iceland

Gudrún Snorradóttir is an Icelandic Appreciative Inquiry practitioner and a professional certified coach (executive) based in Reykjavik, Iceland. In recent years, she has been dedicated to developing and strengthening the concept around more human leadership: combining coaching, Applied Positive Psychology and Appreciate Inquiry while working with leaders and organizations in building more humane workplaces. She is the founder and CEO of Human Leader, a company that operates from Iceland with international connections. Gudrún’s area of specialization is training for future leadership skills.

Today, as human beings, we have a joint project to manage and solve. Things are moving fast, borders are continuing to close, and the COVID-19 virus is a real threat for humankind. We, AI practitioners, have possibly never been as important: to ask the right questions, to create shared solutions and to vision a new world where human ethics are given more space. We know little, but it is sure that there is a need for a solution-based on mindset, comfort and more humanity amongst those in need and those who fear how things are escalating.

Icelanders are known for being resilient in these kinds of challenges. It seems that crises reveal the true natures of Icelanders; some even say that we are at our best when disasters hit our country, well known in global studies of the happiness measure as one of the happiest countries in the world, even when we hit the economic crisis in 2007. What is the magic behind it? It’s built on one word: community. People who care for each other, support each other and therefore have the resilience to endure hard times. Just to name some examples taking place in my country right now:

We are trusting and supporting those who are in charge and following advice from our health system. By that, we mean being responsible towards those who are in particular danger.

Healthy individuals are posting on Facebook, offering to shop for the elderly and sick and take care of their essential needs during the isolation period.

People are offering their time, money and support to reach out to those who don’t have money to buy groceries.

Restaurants are offering to deliver food to the door so that no one has to go hungry.

Television stations are combining their efforts to keep everyone well informed.

The Icelandic genetic company, deCODE, is offering all in need a COVID test, to follow how quickly the virus is spreading, and from that information decide how we can prevent the virus spreading further.

Banks, travel agencies, grocery stores and others are finding ways to take special care of those in the most danger of getting infected and aligning their services to ensure our society carries on.

Organizations are offering their employees the option to work from home, to be able to take of their families and protect the elderly and sick.

Our nurses and doctors are working day and night in a challenging environment, wanting to support and comfort those in most need.

Our whole society is finding ways to connect online. Ministers offer masses online, theatres offer free shows for the public, musicians offer free concerts, there are offers of virtual coaching and psychological help, and families keep contact with their elderly members via social media.

The examples of a healthy community are countless, and they make me proud and hopeful. On social media, we see how we rise as human beings in many ways. People in Spain gather at a set time each day to celebrate and cheer on and appreciate their health staff. Neighbours in Italy share songs from their balconies and find harmony, despite their isolation. During this time of death and suffering, the human spirit is prevailing, and it is a beautiful and precious element that we all will hold, if nourished and treasured.

In the summer of 2009, positive psychology came rushing into my life. It came at precisely the right time, moments of doubt and some personal suffering. Since then, it has been a constant love affair of a grand gesture; I’ve been fascinated to bring out the true nature of people by focusing on what works and asking the right questions. I believe in the human species. Despite robots, algorithms and all the technical solutions, humans own my heart.


Through research, you can see that there is one thing that brings us the most happiness and well-being: secure connections with others. What is most satisfying for a human being is to support and help another human being. To connect, to be seen, to be heard, to belong. From childhood, it has been my sincere belief that we are born to do good and to be good. This passion and my experience of leadership led me to research and focus on the human touch in leadership. I’ve searched to understand the challenges ahead for future leaders, as well as what kind of leadership will be needed for humans to endure. In the 21st century, change is discontinuous, abrupt and distinctly nonlinear. That has never been as true as it is today.

As those who are currently centred in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution, the leaders of today and tomorrow are faced with various challenges. What kind of challenges are we facing in our organizations and what competencies and skills do we need for those kinds of challenges? Through research, it is clear that some of these challenges are the restructuring of the workforce, skill gaps, the gig economy, an increased number of millenials in the job market, growing numbers of mental health issues and a large number of disengaged employees to which has been added the newest challenge COVID-19. These facts raise the following questions on my mind:

How will these challenges eventually change the nature of work, and what kind of leadership competencies and skills will be needed?

How do leaders prepare themselves and their employees for a mostly unknown future?

What role can Appreciative Inquiry play in years to come in forming the leaders of tomorrow?

There are some critical skills that leaders need to focus on and capture to be able to lead in the 21st century, for example: the ability to create a trustworthy environment where psychological safety plays the leading role; resilience and adaptability; and emotional intelligence and active listening, among others.

There is an acute need for leaders who have been trained for what is next – leaders who have developed their state of readiness for the unexpected.

Keeping our focus clear

How can we increase our tolerance toward these high-pressure situations and gain more tools to deal with them? I want to share with you an exercise that is very popular among my clients, especially in times of change and crises. Today, one of our primary assignments is to keep our focus clear and put our energy into the things that we can definitely control. Let’s deal with COVID-19 by drawing two columns on a piece of paper. One column we label: Influence. The other column we label: Worries. Let’s start. Here is my list:

After doing this exercise, your assignment is to choose. To choose where you put your mental energy. Which column will you “nourish” with your attention? The choice is yours, and it’s a beautiful as well as a frightening thing to realize.

The time has arrived. What will be your gift of AI approach in these challenging times? I do wish you and everybody the courage and confidence to be our best selves because surely there’s never been a better time to put all that learning into practice.

With much love and respect from your fellow AI practitioner in Iceland,


Download the full article.

By Keith Storace

Keith is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.


CALL FOR ARTICLES Hope in Times of Despair

Call for Articles

AIP Issue: November 2020

Editors: Jeanie Cockell & Joan McArthur-Blair

Working Title: Hope in Times of Despair – The Practice of Appreciative Resilience

Focus of the Issue

This issue will focus on finding and amplifying hope in times of despair through using and being AI – practicing appreciative resilience. We are particularly interested in how Appreciative Inquiry has been integral to these experiences of hope.

We invite Appreciative Inquiry practitioners to share articles, stories, case studies, reflections, art, images, videos, poetry, research, models and theory regarding hope in times of despair. These contributions can be personal, professional, academic, organizational, community-based… We are seeking a balance of academic and practitioner contributions.

The Invitation

We are inviting practitioners to define and use their own definitions of hope and despair in their contributions. We recognize that there are many definitions of these concepts. In these complex times, as the world is living and working in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is ever more compelling to find these stories and share them with the world.

Appreciative Resilience

Appreciative Resilience brings Appreciative Inquiry to bear in the practice of resilience and influences the experience of hope and a hopeful view; finding strength in times of despair; and undertaking the will to forgive. As David Cooperrider has stated; this is considered the third rung of AI where the work is to explore not just the ordinary or the extraordinary but the tragic (despair).

The Passions of the Editors

Jeanie and Joan bring to this issue a passion for deeply understanding what it means to seek hope in times of despair. They bring years of studying and writing about the nature of leadership and the ways in which leaders can undertake to practice appreciative resilience.

Preparing Your Proposed Contribution

Here are some questions that may be useful to reflect upon as you think about your contribution to the issue. They are not intended to be exclusive – go where your contribution takes you.

  • How do you define hope, despair and resilience?
  • What is your story of hope in times of despair?
  • How was Appreciative Inquiry applied in this experience?
  • What theories are you proposing for finding hope in times of despair?
  • How can your ideas be used by others?
  • What are you saying about the practice of resilience?
  • How are you using Appreciative Inquiry processes, theory, principles and tools in this example?
  • How does your story reflect being AI?
  • How does your work on finding hope in times of despair speak to power, privilege and difference?
  • How does your contribution illustrate inclusion?
  • How does your contribution address the issues of systemic despair?


Joan McArthur-Blair & Jeanie Cockell, co-presidents of Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, have authored and co-authored many articles on resilience, leadership and Appreciative Inquiry. They also have co-authored Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness (2018) and the second edition of Appreciative Inquiry in Higher Education: A Transformative Force (2020).

Joan McArthur-Blair is a powerful speaker, writer and facilitator who grounds her education and organizational development work in a deep passion for learning, change and the possibilities of a positive future. She specializes in appreciative resilience and works to foster positive leadership. She brings to her consulting work many years in higher education in positions from faculty to president.

Jeanie Cockell is an educational and organizational consultant who specializes in collaboratively design­ing strategies to surface the wisdom of individuals and groups in order for them to build positive futures and to respond effectively to change. She is a leader in using Appreciative Inquiry and travels worldwide (often virtually) to facilitate workshops, speak at conferences and consult for clients.

To contribute:
We invite you to send a proposal (300 words maximum) by May 1, 2020 for the November 2020 issue of AI Practitioner to Jeanie Cockell,

Final articles, stories, case studies, reflections, art, images, videos, poetry, research, models and theory, can change range from 250 to 1500 words. Art and diagrams should be high resolution, publication ready. Poetry should be formatted for publication. Videos should be 2–5 minutes.


The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.


The How of Happiness:
A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

By Sonja Lyubomirsky

Penguin, 2008

ISBN – 978-0-14-311495-6

Have you tried using Google to search for “happiness”? If not, let me tell you that you can expect over nine hundred million results. And have you tried searching for “happiness” books on Amazon? Let me tell you that you can expect over fifty thousand results.

Searching for a research-grounded, practice-oriented book on the subject, I  found several with an overly simplistic and rosy-eyed approach, but very few with substance. I picked The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky because this book offers an authentic guide on “happiness”, substantiated by scientific research, yet speaking to the heart as much as it speaks to the mind. From scholarly explanations, to the significance in the context of everyday life, to the myths muddling the phenomenon of true, abiding “happiness”, to helping the reader learn in simple and practical ways to create and sustain happiness for oneself … this book delves deep into all, and more. It is not often that I begin reading a book at the end. But the postscript on “If you are depressed” did not just evoke my curiosity but also affirmed my own belief that “happiness” and “depression” can be explored in a shared realm.

Core proposition

Happiness, the author suggests, is the “holy grail of life”. She offers a “forty percent solution” proposition, arguing that, while fifty percent of the difference in our happiness can be explained by our genetically determined happiness set-point (one’s innate characteristic potential for happiness) and ten percent by life-circumstances, as much as forty percent of our happiness is for us to create and influence ourselves through conscious and intentional effort – wisely choosing to live such activities that help us create, sustain and enhance our happiness.

Happiness, she argues, is more meaningful and deeper than what is depicted in the “ubiquitous smiley face and the inspirational posters”. As she explains, happiness is about the “experience of joy, contentment, a sense that life is good and worth living”, and an abiding wellbeing that each of us embodies in our own unique ways – whether through cheerfulness, serenity or productivity. The author insists that happiness is not an object out there to be found through a passive pursuit. It is rather an active life-process that we undertake to create and sustain happiness through conscious choice and intentional effort. She emphasizes that while life challenges do stress happy people as much as anyone else, their innate sense of wellbeing helps them cope and work through challenges with poise and strength.

Many readers may not need an elaboration as to why it is important to be happy. But I guess some may be curious to know how happy they are. The author shares a simple subjective happiness scale that she has developed to help one guess one’s happiness set-point. At first glance, this scale appeared simplistic. But as I read, I realized that each of the four simply worded statements is actually an invitation for authentic self-inquiry. If you like being honest with yourself, the scale would help you design a meaningful happiness project for yourself, especially if you also choose to rate yourself on the depression scale that follows immediately.

Delving into myths of happiness, the author explains why life circumstances are given little space on the happiness pie. Citing scientific research, the author clarifies that while genes have a strong influence (as much as fifty percent) on our happiness temperament, life events make little impact because humans tend adapt quickly and remarkably well to hedonic sensory or physiological changes. She assures readers that, though happiness set-points can’t be changed, it is nonetheless very much (forty percent) within an individual’s choice and ability to manoeuvre one’s happiness levels through the intentional effort of investing in undertaking “wisely selected” activities in sync with one’s personal make-up.

Along with the “forty percent solution”, “creation of lasting happiness” and “intentional effort”, a unique offering of this book is the concept of person–activity fit. The author shares a self-diagnostic test that she has developed to help one ascertain what happiness activities would best suit. Pursuing such wisely selected activities that serve one’s goals and strengths, according to the author, helps one stay motivated and make the desired intentional effort.

A treasure house of happiness

Part II of the book is a treasure house of happiness activities that would be a delight to both professionals and individuals interested in self-help alike. The rich platter of various happiness activities is sure to have at least one for each reader. I found several of these activities relevant and valuable for me. However, it is “forgiveness” that sang to my heart. While it is easy to argue why and how forgiveness helps, it is hard to practice forgiveness. The author gives practical and effective ways to practice forgiveness. Apart from practicing “imagine forgiveness” and “charitable attributions” strategies myself, I also used a couple of others with my coaching clients, helping them to not just forgive the transgressor but also seek release from their own emotional hurt.

Combined with the person–activity fit test, are the clustering of various activities, detailing of strategies pertaining each, discussion about timing and variation, and the scientific way to turn happiness-inducing behaviours into lasting habits. The author makes it very simple and easy to start practising these research-evidenced activities in actively creating and enhancing one’s happiness. Appendix 1 offers a quick reckoner of the various mutually supportive happiness-enhancing strategies.

The book’s distinctive appeal

What makes this book stand apart with engaging intellect and evocative appeal is author’s deft and appropriate blending of scholarly explanation and practical wisdom. The author explains profound concepts in simple, jargon-free and easy-to-relate-to language. She cites extensive research, offers practical advice and shares several moving stories. I felt particularly touched and inspired by Judith’s story: she “chose to be happy” and returned to college at age fifty-two despite having lived through difficult life circumstances and a likely low set-point for happiness.

Sometimes endings hide meaningful beginnings. This book’s postscript provokes one to take a fresh view of depression. Affirming a positive psychology proposition, the author makes a case for trying “happiness-increasing activities”, even for severely depressed individuals without necessarily waiting to be first cured of depression. While these activities may not cure depression, there is a strong likelihood that they “lighten the burden and darkness of depression”.

What else?

The book’s postscript evokes more than just curiosity. I am filled with respect for the author for her courageous choice of giving space to the very urgent and timely topic of depression in her happiness book. It would have been nice to read in greater detail about how conscious happiness creation and enhancement can help one face and work through depression. That said, I understand that this topic is complex and important enough to deserve a book exclusively devoted to the theme. I would keenly wait for that. Further, it would be interesting to learn if and how various happiness activities as elaborated in this book relate to the famous positive psychology character strengths. The author begins the book with Mary Oliver’s poetry. And I close this book appreciation with the same …

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.
Mary Oliver

The book is easily available at online marketplaces and leading bookstores.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a highly respected positive psychologist and happiness pioneer. She is a distinguished professor and the vice-chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). She has done extensive research on “happiness” spanning her long career as a scientist and researcher in the field of psychology. She directs the Positive Activities and Well-Being Laboratory at the UCR. She has published numerous scholarly articles on happiness as well as two best-selling books, The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness.

Stories that boosted me: Appreciate, celebrate and value what is in you and in front of you, as it is

It was a pleasure to meet Félix Viloria Landaeta at WAIC2019 in Nice, France last year, where he shared his moving and inspirational story which clearly resonated deeply with attendees. His inviting smile reflects the enthusiasm with which he embraces his work in the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) space. Félix is our contributor to Voices from the Field in this Issue of AI Practitioner, where explains his understanding of what it is to be appreciative, his growth as an AI practitioner, and the welcome influence his mother has had on what he eventually chose to do with his life.

Stories that boosted me: Appreciate, celebrate and value what is in you and in front of you, as it is

Félix Viloria Landaeta | Colombia

Félix Viloria Landaeta is a Venezuelan Appreciative Inquiry practitioner based in Colombia. In recent years, he has been dedicated to facilitating dialogues and accompanying leaders and organizations in building a more inclusive and humane vision with their work teams through the construction of an appreciative ethic. He is also an Appreciative Executive and Life Coach and Managing Partner of the firm Cresiendo Consultores.

Since I began in the world of Appreciative Inquiry, I have become aware that I live in a constant internal dialectic. Like any other person, I debate daily between the good or the bad, the beautiful or the ugly, what I like or what I don’t like. And I realize that that’s fine! But, in addition, I have gone a step further and have learned to ask myself, what do I do with that internal dialogue? Which side of the story do I choose to stay with? How do I put it at my service and at the service of the welfare of others?

What to do with the internal dialogue when you have grown up in a ‘think wrong and you’ll get it right’ culture?

I spent much of my corporate career supporting and leading strategic planning processes. I held on to the apparent “truth” that the worst-case scenario always had to be considered and, therefore, I always looked for the flaw in any idea. With the healthy intention of challenging the conversation, I focused on finding what was not right by listening to the negative, the doubts and fears that arose in my mind. This eclipsed the possibility of appreciating any proposal in an integral way. I was trained to identify failure. Even on a personal level, I was always aware of what was wrong or what could potentially fail. I was an expert in “pricking the balloons” of any idea. I measured my success on the number of proposals that did not pass my “filter” or the discussions I won by highlighting the weakness in the approaches of others. The balance of the dialogue was totally inclined towards the negative. While people appreciated the fact that I showed them what was not right in their plans, the way I did it was far from being perceived as good intention.

In March 2019, in a wonderful meeting in Barcelona generously organized by the IDeIA Network, I heard one of the facilitators commenting on how she, over many years, “had lived in the questions”. That phrase “woke up” in my reflection and made me realize that, with the practice of AI, I could learn to challenge ideas in a different way, letting go of the urgency to arrive at the correct answer and win the competition.

I continue to learn to use this negative internal dialogue of doubts and fears, and to put it at the service of asking questions that generate possibilities instead of making judgments, of focusing my intention on how to improve the idea, not how to discard it.

Listening consciously is a daily challenge. It has involved listening to the other from a space of openness and humility in order to identify the possibilities and, in addition, to listen to myself to identify when my internal dialogue moves me away from that purpose and to redirect it to the service of the objective.

Which side of the story do I choose to stay with?

Félix’s mother

By chance, I saw a video of the AQUARIUS IMPARABLE PROGRAM. In it, I heard the phrase “desire is not a matter of age” and I could not help but recall my mother’s life story. She died recently at the age of 82.

Her childhood wasn’t easy. She was the second of thirteen siblings of whom only five survived, which meant she became the older sister. Having lost her father at a very young age and with a widowed mother who was sick, worn down by pain, and without encouragement or enthusiasm meant that, from the age of eight, my mother had to work to help support the family.

Despite growing up in such a harsh environment, my mother told her story with joy, never with resentment or regret. Was there pain in her life story? I believe so. But I am convinced that she chose to keep what made her happy during those rough moments.

During my adolescence and then into my adulthood, she always told me “look at everything you’ve achieved so far, you can do it, you deserve it, go for it!” The life stories that she chose to share inspired me, encouraged me to develop, and convinced me to prosper and live a full life. I realize that, unconsciously and naturally, my mother had embraced the positive and flourished. Her enthusiasm for living, exploring and discovering new things was the driving force to who I am today and my choice to live and work appreciatively.

A little more than a year ago, my good friend Santiago Otero and I were in Argentina philosophizing about what it is to BE APPRECIATIVE and we managed to articulate this statement: “feel, think, talk, act and relate with others from the conscious choice of perceiving, recognizing and amplifying the valuable and meaningful in people, events and things”.

It was wonderful to be able to articulate the ability to “appreciate” as concrete actions, but even more wonderful was the fact of declaring it as a “conscious choice”. This gained a total relevance in my professional spectrum and, more deeply, a new perspective in my personal sphere. This conscious choice complements my listening. It invites me to reorient my internal conversation to strengthen my relational capacity; to retrain my brain to identify success.

Progressively, with the practice of AI, I have incorporated the daily choice of staying on the side of the positive, which makes me look at the negative from a different viewpoint and approach it with better energy. From this view, the negative serves as a reference to understand what I do want: to understand the other point of view, to form a criterion, to include, to learn. Only from there have I been able to support others to go through change, to leave behind conversations that lead to separation, and to find a point of convergence.

To exclude the negative is to exclude part of the story. With AI, I have learned to look at and embrace the negative with the intention and purpose of giving voice to the entire system in the organizations with which I work. My challenge has been how to refocus it, how to approach it so that in the end it results in realizing the longings and aspirations of those overwhelmed and seeking to achieve their dreams.

It is undeniable that considering organizational dynamics is just the beginning of working towards a different path in terms of the construction, rather than identification, of business opportunities. Moving from Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) to Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results (SOAR), for example, requires leaders to understand that it is not about concealing or eclipsing the negative, but looking at it from the perspective of opportunity and abundance.

How to put the internal dialogue at my service and at the service of the welfare of others?

One of the exercises I use in my consulting practice with clients, when conflict between parties is present, is designed to unleash the creative potential. This involves mapping the entire relational system and giving voice to each component through the construction of a map of empathy, an extremely helpful way to externalize the dialogues that occur within each team member. At first, they are resistant and afraid to open this space of putting themselves in the place of the other and to answer these questions: “What would they say? How do they feel? What do they think? What do they need? From where are they focusing the situation? What do they see?” Once they engage in this dialogue, they discover possibilities that were not as clear before. Listening to what they deem negative from their counterparts makes it possible to build what they want to happen, to find convergences and move towards the goal.

Inviting us to move from opposition to acceptance, however contrary ideas may be, allows us to recognize that we coexist with others, that their presence is a fact, and they all have a place in the system. This space of coexistence and cohabitation inspires a new look at the reconstruction of relational systems as it encourages listening to and recognizing the aspirations of all.

We have the power to use actions and words to judge and label, or to promote wellbeing. It is a choice that can crucially change the future of organizations and of us as human beings.

The more positive the internal dialogue, the more positive the emotion and, therefore, the more positive the action. The image we make to the world is a product of the oscillation of our thinking between good and bad. Daring to listen and redirect the internal dialogue – about ourselves, about others and about situations – takes us to the space of consciousness and connection.

In addition to loving our neighbours, we also must like and appreciate them. We need, then, to tell ourselves new stories that arouse that admiration. That can only be possible with openness and acceptance.

Download the full article.

By Keith Storace

Keith is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.

Readers’ Survey

AI Practitioner has not had a readers’ survey in over ten years, so we decided to create one in September/October last year. We had, for the size of readership, a good response and what is even more important, thoughtful replies about what is going well, what readers want more of, and suggestions for future possibilities. All of this is useful data for the upcoming year, and we hope to discuss it at a future board meeting.

The summary of the report can be found here.

CALL FOR ARTICLES Grief & Growth Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner May 2020

Editors: Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Please mail your Proposal-cum-synopsis & query at


“Give sorrow words … The grief that does not speak
Knits up the over wrought heart … and bids it break”
… William Shakespeare

Grief … a word that for some is even more dreadful than the word ‘death’. It is a natural reaction to loss. It is natural for people to feel sad, angry, fearful, betrayed, abandoned, lonely, sick, confused and more, sometimes for a rather prolonged duration or with acute intensity. That said, deep transformation also unfolds in the wake of loss, trauma and grief. Alongside the angry cries of “Why me”, also appear the invocations like “What does this loss ask me to do/be”, “Where does my life turn from here”, “How do I preserve/cherish deceased’s life/presence”. There are several ways grief and trauma invite one to grow larger and deeper than who one is at the time of loss.

This issue takes a constructivist approach to the complex phenomenon of “Grief”, hoping to offer a generative way to uncover the paradoxical gift of “Growth” beneath the dense layers of difficult emotions associated with grief.

Honouring the promise and potential of Constructivism, Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology, Generative Metaphor, Art Therapy, Self-transcendent healing and all such generative approaches … This issue of AI Practitioner invites you to share your wisdom about “Grief and Growth” in contexts such as family, workplace, caregiving, aging, ambiguous loss, disaster, and in any or a combination of the following forms –Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story. We would encourage you to avoid too much content, and instead focus on the generative lesson and potential.


Please submit a proposal-cum-synopsis for what you want to write about. It should

be MAX 250 words long, and outline following –

  • Proposed Title & Form (Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story)
  • Abstracts of what you want to share through the proposed article; and Keywords
  • Proposed length (1500-2000 words, excluding references)

Please mention on the cover page – Corresponding Author name & contact details; and Authors’ Bio (MAX 60 words each)

Please convey your willingness to:

  • declare originality of your article, and acknowledge/credit the quotes, citations &
  • art-work, with due consent, as & how applicable
  • improve/modify the article (including length) as per editors’ feedback
  • sign an agreement for publication with the ‘AI PRACTITIONER’ Management, once your full-length article is accepted for publication


  • 10th Jan 2020 Proposal-cum-synopsis (as per guidelines above) submission
  • 25th Jan 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted proposals
  • 25th Feb 2020 Submission of Full-length article
  • 10th Mar 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted articles
  • 25th Mar 2020 Submission of Final Articles (modified as per Editors’ feedback & suggestions) along with tables/graphics/images, if any; and Authors’ bio (MAX 60 words each) & photo

AI PRACTIONER is a scholarly, non-commercial journal that seeks to generate and disseminate learning on strength-based approaches to change, with special emphasis on Appreciative Inquiry. The quarterly issues are mostly theme-based. May 2020 is designed on the special theme of “Grief & Growth”. The journal offers a platform for articles, case studies, research work, focussing on what gives ‘life’ to a person, a system, an organisation, a community when it is most alive, most effective and most constructively capable. The authors make voluntary, non-remunerative contributions. Please discover more about journal at –

May 2020 Issue Editors

Apart from being researchers and practitioners of constructivist grief care, both the editors have meaningfully reconstructed their lives, transcending own grief, and taking it up as their life mission to help those in loss and trauma emerge wiser and stronger.

Neena Verma, PhD is a scholarly practitioner and educator of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She specializes in Leadership, Team & Transcendence Coaching. She is passionate about developing process frameworks that promote application of AI, Positive Psychology and Jungian Depth Psychology for individual, group & organizational development. Apart from Coaching & Consulting for deep, generative & systemic change, Neena is acknowledged for her service as “Transcendence Coach” and “Grief & Growth Apostle”. Neena has served on International Advisory Council of successive World AI Conferences 2019, 2015 & 2012. She is ICF-PCC credential Executive Coach; NTL Professional Member; Certified MBTI & HOGAN Professional. She serves on the Editorial Board of ‘AI Practitioner’ (AIP – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry). Apart from contributing articles & appreciative book reviews at the journal, Neena has designed & lead-edited Feb 2013 & Nov 2016 issues of AIP.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD is a Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he maintains an active clinical practice. He also directs the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which provides training internationally in grief therapy. Neimeyer has published 30 books, including “Techniques of Grief Therapy: Assessment and Intervention”; and “Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning”, the latter with Barbara Thompson. He serves as Editor of the journal ‘Death Studies’. The author of over 500 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaningmaking process. Neimeyer served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards by both the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the International Network on Personal Meaning.

We look forward to co-creating a rich & insightful May 2020 issue of AI Practitioner on the theme ‘Grief & Growth’.

In appreciative anticipation

Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Snippets from WAIC2019

We invited those at WAIC2019 to share their thoughts and experiences in the form of short snippets, woven together below.

What did you learn or became aware of you didn’t know?

There were so many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

I became aware of the transformation stories of many people, of the impact issuing from AI which these processes have around the world. I also liked the recognition given to the strides emerging in Latin America.

So many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

The K5 keynote helped me see the potential for networking in the UK.

What is possible for you now that wasn’t possible before the 2019 WAIC?

I can re- think and strengthen my network and relationships based on the multiculturality.

I have discovered accelerated learning on new paths. The speed with which I was able to obtain breadth of knowledge in just four days is something that is rarely obtained in everyday spaces.

The opportunity to get to know different perspectives voices, and dreams coming from different hearts in different places, as well as the scope and ways of life from AI, have led me to make an important decision regarding my personal and professional life: I have decided to fully dedicate myself to enable processes from AI, adding to these processes elements of plastic expression. It is thus that I offer my services to those communities with whom I develop proposals for Appreciative Inquiry and Dialogues.

Gervase Bushe’s keynote gave me resources that I can pass on to a key person I work with because it will help them understand the difference between problem-solving and generative questions.

I learned a comprehensive new map of applications for AI; and addressing my concern about new and different ways to address and promote sustainable change, beyond the 5D cycle, in different areas.

What changed because of what you experienced at the conference to allow that to happen?

My confidence level increased as I shared the work I carried out with those communities affected by the 2017 earthquake in Mexico. It allowed me to receive feedback from several appreciative co-creators. As well, going into other AI action areas, for example: being able to offer civil organisms, foundations and schools, different approaches regarding community development. [Looking at] other ways to revalue relations and that recognize all possibilities before focusing on the problems allows for sizing their scope and growth.

I have gained so many new ideas and insights that I will use in my life in all its aspects.

I was able to get in touch with practitioners of great experience and with different idiosyncrasies. Through them, I could discover the singularities and similarities in what we do, both in organizations and with people.

What particular story that happened to you during the WAIC would you like to share ?

The most superb story from WAIC2019 for me is about my own awakening, my self-awareness, that is, the people, the stories, as well as valuing and understanding what being appreciative means. It is taking the whole and giving it other ways of living the experiences and taking from them the best in order to co-create my own story and inspiring myself from the best, and thus being able to expand this way of being.

It opened a new level of trust that reinforced my intention to position AI in Latin America as a philosophy to build kinder relationships and dialogues.

I now see AI not only as a platform for change through dialogue, but a very high-level strategic platform for re-design reality.

What came alive for you at WAIC2019?

I left feeling more confident to find more opportunities to use AI after WAIC.

We all are together to achieve a world mission, all together for great goals.

I am thinking of holding things more lightly, of coming from a fun place, when facilitating.

It really empowered me to keep going on creating a much more appreciative world. You can see how the community is real, in the sense of applying a methodology, and the values underlying that methodology.

It became much clearer to me that we are biography – individual as well as a collective story – narrative and the living out of our discoveries!

Awakening Compassion at Work by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.


I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness
Mother Teresa

From the soulful poetry of Rumi, to the joyful the Dalai Lama’s joyful implorations, and the existential prose of Nietzsche to just about any human being, I am always seeking inspiration and guidance to learn, embody and practice compassion. That said, on the practical (not my strength) grounds of the organizational realm, I sometimes find myself struggling because my compassionate endeavour is influenced by what Mother Teresa says – unwavering if naïve – yet always so deeply fulfilling and humbling.

An emotion, value or act, whatever be one’s construct of this phenomenon, compassion is a fundamental human reality, as much as suffering is. But do we talk of the two in the cold, professional organizational realm of business mandates and performance agendas? The atmosphere just does not seem conducive. One doesn’t talk of suffering at workplace, more so if it relates to personal life –illnesses, losses, traumas, relationship breakdowns, and definitely not grief. But what of the hurts and suffering one collects at workplace? We don’t talk of that either. We are expected to be stoic, professional and to “act strong”. Maybe sometimes we shouldn’t. We are expected to not “act weak” by allowing expression to our suffering. Maybe sometimes we should, because vulnerability is not the opposite of strength. Often an authentic expression of vulnerability allows unfolding of real strength.

It was thus with such faith that compassion has a sure and sacred space in organizational realm, that I was searching for a book on compassion at work that would combine scholarly rigour with practical knowledge. And I found this amazing one by co-authors Worline and Dutton.

What an ‘AWAKENING’ Title

What does a courageous book with an evocative title like this do? It invokes and awakens.

In their one-page introduction, the authors set the tone of their deep and powerful work by making a simple assertion – “suffering at work is a hidden cost to human capability” – and that to work with “full human effectiveness” organizations need to “awaken compassion at work”. Simple but not simplistic. It must have been a challenging task for authors to make a case for compassion in the organizational context. It seems apt thus that they begin by presenting the so-to-say abstract phenomenon as a four-part concrete process of – noticing the presence of suffering at workplace, interpreting and making sense of the experience, feeling empathic concern and acting to alleviate suffering.

The authors call for a break in the silence around suffering at work before explaining the why and the how of compassion at work. Making a compelling case for the strategic advantage of compassion at work, the authors walk you through a gamut of organizational contexts where compassion enables a sense of human aliveness, such as innovation, collaboration, talent, learning, quality, engagement. The explanations make a logical appeal, but it is a simple affirmation – “human ingenuity” that organizations need to enable various things, asks for acknowledgment of “human pain” – that calls you to the deeper layers of the book.

At its heart

The four-aspect phenomenon of compassion at work is what sits at the core of this book. The process begins with noticing – a deep act and process of inquiry, an essential “portal to compassion”, but hard to practice. There are subtle clues to be discerned and acknowledged, for which a supportive organizational climate is just as essential as individual members’ perceptiveness. Clues that need to be recognized, brought out of the closet, allowed space and expression, and made sense of. The authors share a stirring “Found Poem” that they have composed from the interviewees’ description of compassion at work, uncovering assumptions about suffering at work …

There was a real norm in our department of modesty and
always presenting a good face.
Keep your skeletons at home.
You’re not supposed to have a personal life.
You are supposed to take care of business.

Interpreting or making sense, in authors’ view, is about making generous interpretations about others’ suffering – about “withholding blame” that other people’s suffering is of their own doing, about offering space with “dignity and worth” for alleviation of their pain, and about coming with presence – just “being there” if nothing else. Interpreting calls for the “positive default assumption” that people are basically good, whole and worthy of compassion. The authors call you to maintain “fierce compassion”, an unwavering commitment to making generous interpretations, so as to be able to take the path of empathy.

Feeling empathic concern, the authors contend, is a choice – a conscious act of perceptive engagement, attunement into other’s world of pain while still maintaining one’s own capacity for empathic listening with mindfulness. And then comes the part that sets this book apart – “compassion moves”, the real-time improvisational acts that enable alleviation of suffering.

There is no naïve assertion that these compassionate actions are without existential dilemmas. There are downsizings and lay-offs that organizations must hand down with stoic professionalism. And there are dark underbellies of organizations where the unnoticed employees who sweep, make copies and do other such menial jobs, quietly keep an organization well-oiled. What about noticing the suffering they silently endure and rise above to keep serving the organization, whether or not any one stops for a moment, exchanges greetings, gives them a warm look that says they matter and asks “Is everything OK”? The acts of compassion must extend to this invisible, steadfast human force at work, if an organization is sincere in its intent to awaken compassion at work. This is what makes the authors assert that “compassion competence” is must.

The architecture of compassion

For organizations to awaken compassion at a systemic level, they must shape compassion competence as a collective emergent pattern of noticing, interpreting, feeling and acting that leverages positive deviances and spreads like a positive contagion. The authors outline factors like speed, timing, immediacy, breadth and the magnitude of customized resources as contributive towards compassion competence.

They explain the what and the how of the social architecture of compassion – the structures, the processes, the human networks – that must come into place to enable compassionate actions. They elucidate the power of organizational culture to clarify, declare and foster humanistic values, and of organizational designs to enable greater compassion competence. Not one, two, three or ten – there are as many as twenty-eight (I hope I counted right) design principles to enable compassion competence across a wide spectrum of organizational life.

The authors help leaders interested in cultivating compassion competence with a skill set for generic scenarios, and some nuanced capabilities for leading with compassion in crisis situations. The authors culminate their offer with a grounded explanation of what comes in the way of living and enabling compassion in organizational contexts – obstacles of all kinds and levels – of people, leaders, structures, processes and cultures.

I must pause here to say that the last section of the book took me most by surprise. I was happy enough to read the authors make a research-based yet realistically convincing case for compassion at work. Part IV of the book is an even richer gift – pragmatic personal and organizational blueprints of compassion. Chapters 11 and 12 are treasure-houses for HR and OD professionals, coaches and just anyone interested in cultivating and enhancing compassion competence at individual and systemic levels. There are assessment scales, design principles, change frameworks and more.

There is an abundance of case studies and stories, rich with meaning and moral, something that may not be easy to find, articulate or practice in organizational realm. The book warms its way to the reader’s heart and then convinces the mind that an emotion as deep and layered as “compassion” is for real, even in the unlikely context of workplace. Via a narrative of action words (notic-ing, interpret-ing, feel-ing, act-ing), the authors inspire compassion pursuit at various levels – from “feeling compassion” to “actioning” it. The active voice of the narrative influences one to move beyond abstractions of compassion towards its tangible practice at work.

In my view, it is neither fair nor feasible to make a critical commentary just so a book review is deemed objective and complete. And I wouldn’t do that. That said, I hope to learn from an expanded edition or subsequent work more about how to work with the emergent pattern of collective noticing, interpreting and feeling, and what role systems can/should play to facilitate growth of human capacity to notice suffering, feel compassion and act upon it. Given the times we are living in, not just in organizational context, but also at societal level, it would be an amazing contribution to help human beings and systems learn to collectively notice and make sense of suffering, and extend the emergent pattern of compassionate action from the individual to the systemic level.

I close this book appreciation with one of the many touching compassion invocations that the authors make through the expansive traverse of their work:

At times when we think there’s nothing we can “do”
We can cultivate ability to “be”

Monica C. Worline (left)

Monica Worline is the founder and CEO of EnlivenWork, an innovation organization that teaches businesses and others how to tap into courageous thinking, compassionate leadership, and the curiosity to bring their best work to life. Monica Worline is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work. She holds a lectureship at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and is affiliate faculty at the Center for Positive Organizations.

Jane E. Dutton (right)

Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the Ross School of Business. Jane Dutton is a co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and passionate about cultivating human flourishing at work. Her research focuses on compassion, job crafting, high quality connections, and meaning making at work.


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