Anyone who has had children has experienced the endless barrage of the “whys” around the age of three years old. “Why is this, Daddy?” “Why is that, Mommy?” The purpose of this phase of development is to learn as much as possible about the world that these children have been brought into.
When do we lose the skill of asking questions? What is it about our early experiences that makes being right more important than learning from each other?
Inquiry is a process of deeply listening and inquiring into one another’s points of view with a goal of reaching a higher level of understanding of complex or subtle issues. By contrast, advocacy is focused on individuals sharing and advocating for their point of view with the goal being to influence others. To be sure, both are important. Ultimately, decisions need to be made. It’s the process of how we get there that matters.
It is often said that one of the biggest barriers to learning is the phrase “I know”. This phrase effectively invalidates everything that the other person is saying and opens the door for only one person to share their point of view. Invariably, this battle of words is what leads to one person winning and the other losing. I have seen this many times over in professional settings. Meetings become more about individuals competing and advocating for their own positions and points of view and less about people working collaboratively together to learn from one another with the goal of developing a shared understanding that is more complete and more robust than any individual person’s position.
Leaders who consistently demonstrate a genuine interest in what others have to say are more likely to build trust and win the hearts of their teams.
This is not to say that leaders should focus solely on inquiry and give up their right to make decisions. However, decisions that take into account the thoughts and opinions of others are likely to be more effective and achieve a higher level of support than those which come from the thoughts of one person alone.
Inquiry is also a critical skill used by people engaged in coaching conversations. One of the core competencies in coaching is the ability to ask powerful questions that lead to an individual developing a deeper understanding of the challenge they are wrestling with.
Here are three reasons why you should engage in a process of inquiry with your teams.
Effective questions create powerful teaching opportunities and send individuals on a meaningful quest for knowledge.
Inquiry can help to fulfill a fundamental need we have as humans which is to feel valued and to be heard in a genuine way.
The shared knowledge of multiple individuals gathered through a process of inquiry is likely to achieve superior results relative to that of the opinions of one person.
Inquiry is a powerful leadership skill that can drive teams to achieve profound results. What can you learn by being curious with others around you? How would engaging with your teams in this manner improve outcomes for your business?