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Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

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The Key to Effective Communication Communication is essential in a healthy organization. But all too often when we interact with people—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate bold new ideas, to avoid disastrous mistakes, to develop agility and flexibility, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. Ed The Key to Effective Communication Communication is essential in a healthy organization. But all too often when we interact with people—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate bold new ideas, to avoid disastrous mistakes, to develop agility and flexibility, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. Ed Schein defines Humble Inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” In this seminal work, Schein contrasts Humble Inquiry with other kinds of inquiry, shows the benefits Humble Inquiry provides in many different settings, and offers advice on overcoming the cultural, organizational, and psychological barriers that keep us from practicing it.


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The Key to Effective Communication Communication is essential in a healthy organization. But all too often when we interact with people—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate bold new ideas, to avoid disastrous mistakes, to develop agility and flexibility, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. Ed The Key to Effective Communication Communication is essential in a healthy organization. But all too often when we interact with people—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate bold new ideas, to avoid disastrous mistakes, to develop agility and flexibility, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. Ed Schein defines Humble Inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” In this seminal work, Schein contrasts Humble Inquiry with other kinds of inquiry, shows the benefits Humble Inquiry provides in many different settings, and offers advice on overcoming the cultural, organizational, and psychological barriers that keep us from practicing it.

30 review for Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

  1. 5 out of 5

    Philippe

    I am getting more and more convinced that big, systemic change takes root in conscious but modest shifts in behaviour and thought. The argument developed in this short book confirms this: asking the right questions, from an authentic attitude of respect and curiosity, is the basis for building trusting relationships; trust facilitates better task-related communication and, thereby, ensures collaboration to get the job done. Humble Inquiry is particularly important given that organisations and co I am getting more and more convinced that big, systemic change takes root in conscious but modest shifts in behaviour and thought. The argument developed in this short book confirms this: asking the right questions, from an authentic attitude of respect and curiosity, is the basis for building trusting relationships; trust facilitates better task-related communication and, thereby, ensures collaboration to get the job done. Humble Inquiry is particularly important given that organisations and communities find themselves drifting towards handling complex interdependent tasks that cannot be accomplished by solitary experts. The idea behind Humble Inquiry is simple enough but its practice is fraught with difficulties. Our culture of task-orientedness and one-upmanship steers us away from an humble stance in organisational and community life. In multi-cultural groups or in teams where there are socially encoded status differences it requires genuine sensitivity to put Humble Inquiry into practice without upsetting people. Also we need to be mindful of the way we project ourselves to the outside world. Perceptual biases and the variety of conscious and unconscious signals that play out in interpersonal communication can easily put us on the wrong foot when it comes to building trust. Here I found Schein’s distinction between Humble Inquiry, diagnostic inquiry, confrontational inquiry and process-oriented inquiry to be very helpful. In my personal communication style I tend to gravitate quickly to a form of diagnostic inquiry. Schein assures me that this can work as Humble Inquiry as long as I’m mindful of the specific context in which I’m asking the questions and the state of the relationship with my interlocutor. Even confrontational questions can be humble if the motive is to be genuinely helpful and the relationship has enough trust built up to allow the other to be feel helped rather than confronted. Recognising these situational cues is easier said than done. A successful practice of Humble Inquiry requires us to slow down, observe carefully and take stock of the situation we find ourselves in. Here Schein briefly connects to Ellen Langer’s work on mindfulness. He also suggests to cultivate a creative habit to discipline ourselves in creating something new that is not ego expanding. I wish there were more of these kinds of books: to the point, succinct, accessible, conceptually rich and practical. Not a book to put back on the shelves but to keep in our satchel for constant reference and validation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lê Phúc

    The idea is great and insightful. However, that could be easily covered by one chapter, not the whole book. The author repeat himself quite a lot.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ajit Kumar

    I have finished reading first four chapters. Really impressive and practical. As rightly pointed out in the book, we are accustomed to the culture of telling. Teamwork based on Inquiry -- specifically, Humble Inquiry, is difficult, but well worth the effort, especially if you're in a leadership position. Update: I completed reading it. Really impressive, though I feel that some of the later chapters are repetition of what is mentioned in the first few chapters. Nevertheless, it serves and import I have finished reading first four chapters. Really impressive and practical. As rightly pointed out in the book, we are accustomed to the culture of telling. Teamwork based on Inquiry -- specifically, Humble Inquiry, is difficult, but well worth the effort, especially if you're in a leadership position. Update: I completed reading it. Really impressive, though I feel that some of the later chapters are repetition of what is mentioned in the first few chapters. Nevertheless, it serves and important purpose -- makes you think on the theme convincingly, and gives ideas on implementing it. In the last chapter, the author writes about Developing the Attitude of Humble Inquiry. He says, the skills of Humble Inquiry is needed in three broad domains: 1) Personal life, to enable dealing with increasing culture diversity; 2) Organizations, to identify needs for collaboration among interdependent work units and to facilitate such collaboration; and 3) Role as leader or manager, to create the relationships and the climate to promote open communication needed for effective task performance. These, in my view summarizes the purpose of the book, There are quite a few gems which need to be thought and learnt. Some of the few which I liked are: ".. my teaching and consulting experience has taught me that what builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward is asking the right questions." "If I don't care about communicating or building a relationship with the other person, then telling is fine. But if part of the goal of the conversation is to improve communication and build a relationship, then telling is more risky and asking." "...there is growing evidence that many tasks get accomplished better and more safely if team members and especially bosses learn to build relationships through the art of Humble Inquiry." "As the quality of communication increases, the task is accomplished better. ....Humble Inquiry is not a checklist to follow or a set of prewritten questions -- it is behavior that comes out of respect, genuine curiosity, and the desire to improve the quality of the conversation by stimulating greater openness and the sharing of task relevant information." "Humble Inquiry starts with the attitude and is then supported by our choice of questions. ... We have to learn that diagnostic and confrontational questions come very naturally and easily, just as telling comes naturally and easily. It takes some discipline and practice to access one's ignorance, to stay focused on the other person." "Consider how much of the work done in today's technologically complex world cannot be done by the leader;hence the leader must learn to live with Here-and-now Humility." "It will be easy for the subordinate to continue to be humble and ask for the help of the superior. The dilemma that will require new learning is how the superior can learn to ask for help from the subordinate." "We may not remember someone's name, but our greeting and our demeanor tells the other person that we acknowledge them. ... Society is based on a minimum amount of this kind of taken-for-granted trust. We trust that we will be acknowledged as fellow humans and that our presented self will be affirmed." "If we want to build a relationship with someone and open up communication channels, we have to avoid operating on incorrect data as much as we can. Checking things out by asking in a humble manner then becomes a core activity in relationship building." "Learning Humble Inquiry is not learning how to run faster but how to slow down in order to make sure that I have observed carefully and taken full stock of situational reality." "In our task oriented impatient culture of Do and Tell, the most important thing to learn is how to reflect." "Humble Inquiry presumes accurate assessment of the situation, so asking ourselves what else is happening is essential. Paradoxically, it involves learning to be humble with respect to ourselves -- to honor our human capacity to take in and deal with complexity, to have a broad range of experiences, and to be agile in responding to those experiences." "Doing something artistic expands mind and body. It is not about whether it is any good or not; it is about trying something really new that is ego expanding." "There is growing acknowledgement that organizations perform better when the employees in various departments recognize their degree of interdependence and actively coordinate and collaborate with each other." "Slowing down, reflecting, becoming more mindful, accessing the artist within you, and engaging in more process reviews -- all will lead to a clearer recognition of what the needs for coordination and collaboration are in your work situation." And, finally the concluding comment from the book. "All of us find ourselves from time to time in situations that require innovation and some risk taking. Some of us are formal leaders; most of us just have leadership thrust upon us from time to time by the situations we find ourselves in. The ultimate challenge is for you to discover that at those moments you should not succumb to telling, but to take charge with Humble Inquiry." As I conclude reading the book and reflect on its contents, I remember one of my earlier bosses, who was a master in the art of Humble Inquiry. He spent hours together to learn about a situation, inquiring with everyone possible to get a clear picture, especially things that involved complexity, before actually acting on a situation. Naturally, he was successful in leading the team with ease, though he did face a number of situations which he never knew anything about.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Richard Newton

    I rather liked this little book. I've been a fan of Schein's thinking for a long time, since I was first introduced to his ideas on Process Consulting when I was a junior management consultant, (I know, we all have things in our pasts that are embarrassing!). This is a very easy read with deceptively simple advice, but summarises decades of experience on what really brings people and teams together, and what avoids the significant problems that result from a failure of people to effectively comm I rather liked this little book. I've been a fan of Schein's thinking for a long time, since I was first introduced to his ideas on Process Consulting when I was a junior management consultant, (I know, we all have things in our pasts that are embarrassing!). This is a very easy read with deceptively simple advice, but summarises decades of experience on what really brings people and teams together, and what avoids the significant problems that result from a failure of people to effectively communicate. It is aimed at the American market, and most of the examples are about the way Americans tend to interact. It is particularly good in explaining how individualism and the competitive spirit can get in the way of effective communications. But before others get too self-assured that the problems explained here are unique to the USA, its worth a little humility and willingness to be open to the ideas. They are simple, but profound and I suspect universally applicable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Jennings

    Relationships grow when people learn about and appreciate each other. I believe that many of us can benefit from being very intentional about reaching out and getting to know each other in our work places, communities and even families. Edgar H. Schein in his new book: Humble Inquiry: the Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (2013) writes, “Why is it so important to learn to ask better questions that help to build positive relationships? Because in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and Relationships grow when people learn about and appreciate each other. I believe that many of us can benefit from being very intentional about reaching out and getting to know each other in our work places, communities and even families. Edgar H. Schein in his new book: Humble Inquiry: the Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (2013) writes, “Why is it so important to learn to ask better questions that help to build positive relationships? Because in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world, we cannot hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions and build relationships that are based on mutual respect and the recognition that others know things that we may need to know in order to get a job done.” Schein states that not all questions are equivalent. He has come to believe that we need to learn a particular form of questioning that he first called “Humble Inquiry” in Edgar H. Schein’s earlier book, Helping (2009) and Humble Inquiry he defines as follows: “Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Listening to understand and appreciate. That makes sense to me. I don’t think it is an easy thing to get good at and I also think it is worth getting good at! I believe that we and generations to come will benefit from co-creation of ideas, plans, solutions, and futures. Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry may help people to gain awareness and dispositions related to gentle and thoughtful probing as we getting to know those around us.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Mish-mash of advice that can be found in many other books I’ve read so I found it boring. What the author says isn’t wrong (“be humble”) but I worry that he omits things that are based on more solid evidence than his anecdotal experiences. For instance, he talks a lot about OR teams. I think that the checklist approach, which he sort of pooh-poohs, makes a lot more sense than relying on all the staff in the hospital to get to know each other personally. Mish-mash of advice that can be found in many other books I’ve read so I found it boring. What the author says isn’t wrong (“be humble”) but I worry that he omits things that are based on more solid evidence than his anecdotal experiences. For instance, he talks a lot about OR teams. I think that the checklist approach, which he sort of pooh-poohs, makes a lot more sense than relying on all the staff in the hospital to get to know each other personally.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bernd Schiffer

    Fascinating! Lots to ponder. Decided to read it again immediately after I finished it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    The author sends a clear and singular message that mastering the art of a humble inquiry is the key to effective communication, but I am left with more questions than answers after having read this book. Are humble inquiries the best method in all scenarios? A variety of cases were presented (e.g., hierarchical, cultural) in which a humble inquiry could clarify or alleviate otherwise precarious dialogue, but I wondered how conversations in this manner could lead to solutions or actions without b The author sends a clear and singular message that mastering the art of a humble inquiry is the key to effective communication, but I am left with more questions than answers after having read this book. Are humble inquiries the best method in all scenarios? A variety of cases were presented (e.g., hierarchical, cultural) in which a humble inquiry could clarify or alleviate otherwise precarious dialogue, but I wondered how conversations in this manner could lead to solutions or actions without being diagnostic. The details seemed lacking. In the end, the "culmination and distillation of [Edgar Schein's] 50 years of work" seemed over-simplified for this reader.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    The value of asking questions based in genuine curiosity and interest (rather than telling people what you think) in building relationships, particularly for the person with higher status in the relationship. The author was a business school professor and a consultant, and the work is addressed to leaders in various positions, the type of people he might have helped professionally. Also, I felt he was used to presenting his material to largely male audiences. Nonetheless, there are many insights The value of asking questions based in genuine curiosity and interest (rather than telling people what you think) in building relationships, particularly for the person with higher status in the relationship. The author was a business school professor and a consultant, and the work is addressed to leaders in various positions, the type of people he might have helped professionally. Also, I felt he was used to presenting his material to largely male audiences. Nonetheless, there are many insights for the ordinary person as well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shawna LeBlond

    I read this for a professional development seminar. It was really interesting and made me think about a lot of my interactions as a manager and as a coworker. I think a lot of time we do not want to find the root of the problem instead we want to offer a quick fix solution, but without addressing underlying issues the problems will continue to arise. I thought this book provided a lot of great insight on how to effectively use questioning communication as a form of building trusting relationship I read this for a professional development seminar. It was really interesting and made me think about a lot of my interactions as a manager and as a coworker. I think a lot of time we do not want to find the root of the problem instead we want to offer a quick fix solution, but without addressing underlying issues the problems will continue to arise. I thought this book provided a lot of great insight on how to effectively use questioning communication as a form of building trusting relationships.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kristian Norling

    How to be curious and humbly ask questions. A very humanistic approach on how to treat others, that also points to the need to show others that you are vulnerable, in order to build trust. Ends with a great chapter on how to develop an attitude of humble inquiry. A short, concise and recommended read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ralf Kruse

    It's impressive on how the right type of inquiry can make such a difference. Really enjoyed reading it. So much great insights on so many levels. It's impressive on how the right type of inquiry can make such a difference. Really enjoyed reading it. So much great insights on so many levels.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I’m not in the corporate world, but I still enjoyed what this book had to give. It had practical tips to have better, open conversations.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shevon Quijano

    Edgar H. Schein encourages leaders to “...create the climate that gives permission for the help to be given” as expressed by “drawing someone out [and] asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” I absolutely loved his idea that I need to “access my ignorance” in order to lead conversations and decisions. So often leaders think that they need to pretend to know everything when they can achieve much Edgar H. Schein encourages leaders to “...create the climate that gives permission for the help to be given” as expressed by “drawing someone out [and] asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” I absolutely loved his idea that I need to “access my ignorance” in order to lead conversations and decisions. So often leaders think that they need to pretend to know everything when they can achieve much more by being humble and asking about things they don’t know. Schein also explores how our society traditionally expects workplace relationships to be task-oriented meaning that the only interactions and communications should revolve around a shared work related goal and no more. He suggests that having a person-oriented relationship is much more productive because when you share a a certain degree of personalization you work even better as a team. This makes total sense. Why do we insist that you can’t be effective in work and also have a healthy social relationship with the same person? With how much globalization is occurring we all need to be intentional with genuinely learning about other people. This in turn will build trust and facilitate more honest communication.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laurence Freeman

    Quite a good read, only approximately 100 pages so you can get through it in an afternoon. The first half of the book was rather excellent, the author touched on how to rephrase questions to be less leading, rhetorical and negative; to be more open, genuine and positive. The later half of the book went a bit too much into physco-sociology for my liking. Although I appreciated some nods to game theory and learnt about the Johari Window, I felt like that wasn't the reason I bought this book. A perh Quite a good read, only approximately 100 pages so you can get through it in an afternoon. The first half of the book was rather excellent, the author touched on how to rephrase questions to be less leading, rhetorical and negative; to be more open, genuine and positive. The later half of the book went a bit too much into physco-sociology for my liking. Although I appreciated some nods to game theory and learnt about the Johari Window, I felt like that wasn't the reason I bought this book. A perhaps too harsh comment would be around the lack of gender specific advice. Society treats genders differently when expressing the same behaviours or asking the same questions. I ask whether the author has considered these implications of gender and how that affects his advice.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Bremner

    The book centres around a simple concept - take the time to listen and ask why. It introduces various concepts to understand why this might be difficult for others, or for yourself, to do. It also introduces a model around different types of inquiry, based on the situation and those involved in the scenario. It also suggests some ways to encourage humble inquiry in those around you. Probably the biggest issue when reading it was the range of concepts that were created - I, at least, started to fi The book centres around a simple concept - take the time to listen and ask why. It introduces various concepts to understand why this might be difficult for others, or for yourself, to do. It also introduces a model around different types of inquiry, based on the situation and those involved in the scenario. It also suggests some ways to encourage humble inquiry in those around you. Probably the biggest issue when reading it was the range of concepts that were created - I, at least, started to find this difficult to follow. While not a ground breaking concept, the book does a good job of breaking down the concept to explore it in a bit more depth, introducing some mental models that could be useful in future.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Daryl

    I think I tend toward (humble?) inquiry especially in my work, so the bigger ideas here weren't especially groundbreaking for me, but the clear articulation of them was helpful and validating. I don't think I learned a lot that'll change my behaviors, but I nodded a lot while reading. Like the best business books, this one takes a set of pretty simple ideas and explains them simply (but not patronizingly); in this case, the technique helps turn a more abstract sense or feeling about how we ought I think I tend toward (humble?) inquiry especially in my work, so the bigger ideas here weren't especially groundbreaking for me, but the clear articulation of them was helpful and validating. I don't think I learned a lot that'll change my behaviors, but I nodded a lot while reading. Like the best business books, this one takes a set of pretty simple ideas and explains them simply (but not patronizingly); in this case, the technique helps turn a more abstract sense or feeling about how we ought to behave into more concrete reasons those behaviors work. The book is better at the beginning and the end, a little flabby through some of the middle, but very brief in any case.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    If you're a rich, white, male, out-of-touch executive stuck on an extra-long layover in a crummy airport, this is just the reading for you! In short: don't be a jerk. Get to know your reports. They have value as human beings. 0/5 do not recommend, unless you're a sociopath??? If you're a rich, white, male, out-of-touch executive stuck on an extra-long layover in a crummy airport, this is just the reading for you! In short: don't be a jerk. Get to know your reports. They have value as human beings. 0/5 do not recommend, unless you're a sociopath???

  19. 5 out of 5

    Fiikske

    Lovely little read and good reminder of the importance of asking instead of telling to build trusted relationships.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Voranc Kutnik

    Great book. Short, clear, concise and actionable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lori Neff

    Good review of concepts around asking helpful questions and listening respectfully.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Helena

    Simple yet powerful message - and several questions that I will try on in my own life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ralf Kruse

    I read the book years ago. In the first round I struggled to get some of the key aspects of the book. The view on here-and-now humility and the perspective on how humble inquiries can change your own perspective, the perspective of others and whole systems struck me, when I re-read it recently.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erika RS

    Well, at least it was short. This book had two key problems. The first is that it was not particularly coherent. Schein covered a number of different elements that were all loosely related and tried to make them all be linked by the concept of humble inquiry. This didn't quite work, and instead I came away with an "it slices, it dices, it even makes julienne fries!" vibe. The last few chapters were especially hard to get through because they almost didn't even make sense. The second is that much Well, at least it was short. This book had two key problems. The first is that it was not particularly coherent. Schein covered a number of different elements that were all loosely related and tried to make them all be linked by the concept of humble inquiry. This didn't quite work, and instead I came away with an "it slices, it dices, it even makes julienne fries!" vibe. The last few chapters were especially hard to get through because they almost didn't even make sense. The second is that much of the book is spent talking about status and why it's important for superiors (ugh) to grant status to their subordinates (ugh) by acknowledging that they have expertise that you don't (duh). I'm sure there are some people for whom this is a useful message. Those people are probably not going to be attracted to a book with this title. For those of us who think that humble inquiry sounds like a good idea and are therefore likely to pick up the book, it has little to offer beyond common communication tips better covered in a myriad of other places (and probably most pithily summarized in Steven Covey's saying, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood). That said, if you try, you can extract some good out of this book (although as noted, it's not novel). The opening example, where someone feels the need to tell someone something without even seeing if they need to be told resonated with me. I hate when people do that, and it does immediately bias me against the teller. Thus, the general idea of humble inquiry is a good one. We should approach people and conversations with genuine curiosity and not assume you know the answers to your questions. If we all did that, then discourse would be much more civil. Another good observation was that when organizations do not foster psychological safety, employees will not share information that could prevent bad outcomes because past experience shows that they will not be listened too and may suffer negative consequences for questioning / defying those with power. These two factors become even more critical when teamwork is needed to get things done since effective teams are built on trust and understanding where everyone is able to contribute, whatever other status ques may be present. Another bit of value is that while there are many ways of asking questions, not all of them are humble inquiry. In particular, questions that are asked for rhetorical effect or in a leading manner do not encourage honest, open answers from the recipient. The book had few tips of how to ask questions which foster honest communication. Some that were there: Reflect on why you're asking a question before asking it. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak in group settings. Ask for examples when things are unclear. Ask about things you feel ignorant or uncomfortable about. Listen to the other person's answers and let that guide the conversation. Slow down; don't rush the conversation. I did also like the definition of trust Schein uses: "Trust in the context of a conversation is believing that the other person will acknowledge me, not take advantage of me, not embarrass or humiliate me, tell me the truth, and, in the broader context, not cheat me, work on my behalf, and support the goals we agree to." All in all though, if the book hadn't been less than 3 hours long, I would not have finished it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    Another great entry from Schein, who has cornered the market on demystifying human relations, especially in organizations. How do you cultivate a relationship in which information can be shared, based on genuine interest and respect? A great companion to reading on building trust and psychological safety.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Reasonable approach to mindful interactions in personal and professional life, pulling on a number of other threads: psychology, organizational behavior, culture, and popular literature. It meanders (but not delightfully) and the core message could be well-delivered as a long essay.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Glorianna

    less telling, more asking, and better listening The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. “Humble inquiry is the skill and the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Retired M less telling, more asking, and better listening The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. “Humble inquiry is the skill and the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Retired MIT Sloan School of Management professor Edgar Schein asserts, “Without good upward communication, organizations can be neither effective nor safe… Your organization may be underperforming because various employees or groups do not recognize the degree to which they are, in fact, interdependent.” The gist of this book is about creating a trusting environment with open communication across hierarchical boundaries. This entails less telling, more asking, and better listening. “The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. However, as tasks become more complex and interdependent, collaboration, teamwork, and relationship building will become more necessary. That, in turn, will require leaders to become more skilled in humble inquiry.” “Humble inquiry is the skill and the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” “What builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward, is asking the right questions. In particular, it is the higher-ranking leaders who must learn the art of humble inquiry as a first step in creating a climate of openness.” “In a complex and interdependent world… we tout teamwork and use lots of different athletic analogies, but I choose the seesaw and the relay race to make the point that often it is necessary for everyone to do their part. For everyone to do their part appropriately requires good communication; good communication requires building a trusting relationship; and building a trusting relationship requires humble inquiry.” “Trust in the context of a conversation is believing that the other person will acknowledge me, not take advantage of me, not embarrass or humiliate me, tell me the truth, and, in the broader context, not cheat me, work on my behalf, and support the goals we have agreed to… We know intuitively and from experience that we work better in a complex interdependent task with someone we know and trust.” Our decisions are only as good as the data or assumptions on which they are based. Humble Inquiry: Humble inquiry is “…the skill and the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person” [5]. To use humble inquiry, we deliberately ask questions without having answers. Each question is genuine. We are making an unbiased request to discover what’s on the other person’s mind. Humble inquiry isn’t just about the question we formulate. Humble inquiry requires us to minimize our own preconceptions and expectations and truly hear the other person’s responses. When using humble inquiry, we’re not influencing the content of the other person’s responses. The motive for our question is sincere: to learn about the other person out of genuine curiosity. Examples: “What brings you here?” or “What would you like to talk about?” or “What comes to mind for you about this new project?” Diagnostic Inquiry: We’re using diagnostic inquiry when we focus in on a particular part of what a person mentions. By choosing to focus on one aspect over others, we’re indirectly steering the conversation and subtly influencing the other person’s mental process. There are 4 specific types of diagnostic inquiry, based on the focus of the question: Feelings and Reactions: Focus the other person on his/her feelings and reactions “How did you react?” Causes and Motives: Focus the other person on his/her motivations “Why do you suppose that happened?” Action Oriented: Focus the other person on his/her prior, current, and future actions “What have you done so far? What are you going to do next?” Systemic Questions: Focus the other person on elaborating context for a situation “What did they do then?” Depending on the relationship, context, and motives, diagnostic inquiry can be a form of humble inquiry. But as you can imagine in the examples above, diagnostic inquiry can easily become influential to a point that the questions are more like telling than asking. Confrontational Inquiry: We’re using confrontational inquiry when we insert our own ideas in the form of a question. Think about rhetorical or leading questions…they are basically a form of telling. That’s confrontational inquiry. Confrontational inquiry isn’t likely to be humble inquiry. In confrontational inquiry, we are taking charge of the content of the conversation and often giving advice. In response, resistance is more likely and relationships are harder to build. Confrontational inquiry questions can fit into the same categories we used for diagnostic inquiry: Feelings and Reactions “Did that make you angry?” Causes and Motives “Do you think they responded like that because they were nervous?” Action Oriented “Why didn’t you say something?” Systemic Questions “Were they surprised?” Notice the difference between diagnostic questions and confrontational questions for each category. In each confrontational example, the person asking the question is inserting ideas and expectations into the questions. Instead of truly open curiosity, there are embedded assumptions. Process-Oriented Inquiry: Unlike the first three types of inquiry, process-oriented inquiry focuses on the quality of the conversation itself, rather than the content of a subject under discussion. We can use process-oriented inquiry to step back when we feel that a conversation has headed in the wrong direction. Questions like “What is happening?” or “Did I offend you?” help us explore dynamics and possibly redirect a conversation. Process-oriented inquiry can be a form of humble inquiry, depending on our motives. Or it can drift in other directions. Process-Oriented Inquiry as Humble Inquiry “Have we gone too far?” “Is this too personal?” Process-Oriented Inquiry as Diagnostic Inquiry “Our conversation just shifted, what happened?” “Why did you choose to say that in that way?” Process-Oriented as Confrontational Inquiry “Why are you being so defensive?” “Have I upset you? Are you upset?” By stepping back and evaluating how a conversation is going, process-oriented inquiry focuses on the relationship itself. This form of inquiry tends to be difficult to learn, but can be a powerful tool to reset expectations and direction during tough conversations. When used in the true spirit of humble inquiry, process-oriented inquiry can promote trust, safety, and respect.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pedro Limeira

    Even though I think the way of dealing with others proposed on this book goes way beyond any kind of method or directions, I really liked to see the picture it draws of the culture that is all around us. The task-oriented culture implies a lack of attention to relationship issues, and that, in turn, ends up dampening the task accomplishment. Another thing that got my attention was the fact that we tend to act strategically when facing situations that might put our knowledge to proof. Why would I Even though I think the way of dealing with others proposed on this book goes way beyond any kind of method or directions, I really liked to see the picture it draws of the culture that is all around us. The task-oriented culture implies a lack of attention to relationship issues, and that, in turn, ends up dampening the task accomplishment. Another thing that got my attention was the fact that we tend to act strategically when facing situations that might put our knowledge to proof. Why would I show signs of not knowing something to a subordinate/superior and therefore show that I am not worth of my position? Hidden assumptions as those shape our behavior uncounsciously and, in the end, make our lives not as good as they could be; instead of a trusting and stress-free environment, we are building collectively huge energy drains. The humble inquiry stance is based on genuine interest in the other human being that is in front of me. It requires lots of self-knowledge work, since we need to be aware of our conditionings built from past experiences to be open to the differences. This book is a great way to start or to get reminded about that, and, for me, that is its value.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    In my workplace, we often speak of putting on our humility pants. The reality is that sometimes we are so wrapped up in what we need to accomplish, we miss each other, or do something stupid, or fail to ask the right and necessary questions. Figuratively putting on and announcing that we are putting on our humility pants signals a different intention, and makes the shift required a little easier, asking ourselves to be more mindful of what is and what is not and the limits of our knowing. Readin In my workplace, we often speak of putting on our humility pants. The reality is that sometimes we are so wrapped up in what we need to accomplish, we miss each other, or do something stupid, or fail to ask the right and necessary questions. Figuratively putting on and announcing that we are putting on our humility pants signals a different intention, and makes the shift required a little easier, asking ourselves to be more mindful of what is and what is not and the limits of our knowing. Reading Edgar Schein is itself an act of practicing humility, because of the insightful questions Schein asks us to consider, and the tough and yet joyful practices recommended. Edgar Schein's work invites us all into being more mindful and more creative as necessary parts of practicing humility, to live with curiosity and respect and with less assumption and negative judgment. I only wish I had met this book earlier in my life. Recommended for community and congregational leaders as well as the business managers the book means to reach.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This is a pretty short book that probes the art of asking questions that invite people into meaningful conversations with the express purpose of building authentic relationships. Practicing humble inquiry requires you to recognize and push beyond any biases or snap judgments that could lead you to make statements that shut down instead of open up conversations. The book only spends a brief time looking at the technique of humble inquiry because the concept is easy to grasp. Instead, it explores This is a pretty short book that probes the art of asking questions that invite people into meaningful conversations with the express purpose of building authentic relationships. Practicing humble inquiry requires you to recognize and push beyond any biases or snap judgments that could lead you to make statements that shut down instead of open up conversations. The book only spends a brief time looking at the technique of humble inquiry because the concept is easy to grasp. Instead, it explores the inhibitors that generally interfere with use of the technique. The sociocultural or behavioral psychology-related inhibitors are not explored in enough depth to be of benefit. So, if you want to understand the true impact of inhibitors like cultural cues, you will need to search out other material. Overall, I didn't learn anything new from this book but it was a good reminder for me of the ingrained habits that we need to fight against if we want to establish authentic relationships in the marketplace.

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