Humble Inquiry is the art of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer. It is building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person, says Edgar Schein in his book Humble Inquiry.
Our culture is biased toward telling. When in telling mode, we hope to educate, impress, or to entertain. Western, egalitarian and individualistic cultures appreciate high achievers and task-accomplishment, but the awareness of interdependency and relationships is often missing: you need the others on the team.
Asking builds relationships
We work better with someone we know and trust, but we aren’t often prepared to spend the time and effort to build relationships. How does asking build relationships? Telling puts the other person down, in a way. It implies they don’t know what I’m telling them. But asking empowers the other – it implies they know something I want to know – and it makes me vulnerable. I need something from them.
In asking, trust builds on my end when the other doesn’t ignore or ridicule but answers my question. At the same time, trust builds on their end because I show an interest and pay attention.
This is only true if you ask open questions and you’re not merely testing your own ideas. “You were hiding in your cubicle to avoid a confrontation with your manager, isn’t that right?”
It is essential to not assume that you know what the other wants or needs. Clear your mind and maximize your listening: access your ignorance and ask questions in the least biased and threatening way. That might take some practice.
Your questions may contain your advice or prejudice – even if you don’t mean to. Compare: “Have you thought of doing a training in Time Management?” versus: “What are you doing about your workload and priorities?” The first question is more likely to trigger a defensive response.
* How can you ask more genuine questions? How can you help yourself to listen instead of talk? What would people not like to tell you? How can you practice sharing and transparency before you need it (in a crisis)?
This is book post #53 – Part “YOU”
By the way, if you want to contribute to a positive workplace culture, my next open workshop on Positive Culture Change Leadership is scheduled for May 2018! More information and registration is available at a first come first serve basis.
Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2017. All rights reserved.
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