An Appreciative Approach to People

Appreciative thinking is learning to see the value of things, says Seth Roberts. It’s learning to appreciate what’s good in something.

School teaches us to be proactively skeptical and critical. We’re taught to immediately look for the flaws in experiments or theories. An appreciative approach, by contrast, simply asks, “What’s redeeming about this experiment or idea? What’s done right?”

Some VCs are naturally appreciative, others naturally critical. After an entrepreneur pitch their first feedback will either be, “OK, here’s what I like about what you’re doing” versus “Here’s where I think the problems are.”

I am trying to take a more appreciative approach to people. When I meet someone new at a cocktail party, I am trying to ask myself more regularly, “What’s cool / impressive / interesting about this person?” as opposed to dwelling on their imperfections.

Stay positive, in other words.

I already do this most of the time. But I think I can do this more with at least three types of people:

1. People I perceive as less smart than me. It is possible to learn from someone not as smart as me. It is also very possible that the person is smart in ways I am not and I should try to appreciate that.

2. The type of people who preface every answer with “thank you for sharing.” These are the exceedingly empathetic people. The touchy feely people. The Oprah people. People who love talking about their feelings more than their ideas. It’s too easy to dismiss them as lightweights. I would like to be better at appreciating their approach to the world.

3. Self-absorbed people. When I’m stuck in a conversation with a self-absorbed person who does not realize that he is a self-obsessed asshole, in my head I sometimes play the game, “How long can he keep talking and I stay silent?” I focus in on his obliviousness to the social dynamics of the conversation. As a result I miss out on appreciating actual virtues he may be displaying, let alone listening to and comprehending the words coming out of his mouth.

Here’s to ever more appreciativeness!

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