February 12, 2014

Humble Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein

Humble Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein
The gentle art of asking instead of telling

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.

Three types of humility:
The humility that we feel around elders and dignitaries
The humility that we feel in the presence of those who awe us with their achievements
Here-and now humility, which results from our being dependent from time to time on someone else in order to accomplish a task that we are committed to.

How do we do better? We have to do three things
Do less telling
Learn to do more asking in the particular form of Humble inquiry
Do a better job of listening and acknowledging

To build a social mechanism - a relationship that facilitates relevant, task oriented, open communication across status boundaries - requires that leaders learn the art of Humble Inquiry. The most difficult part of this learning is for person in the higher-status position to become Here-and now humble, to realize that in many situations they are de facto dependent on subordinates and other lower status team members.  

Four forms of inquiry:
Humble inquiry
Diagnostic inquiry
Confrontational inquiry
Process-oriented inquiry

Humble inquiry maximizes my curiosity and interest in the other person and minimizes bias and preconceptions about the other person. I want to access my ignorance and ask for information in the least biased and threatening way.

The US culture is individualistic, competitive, optimistic and pragmatic. We believe that the basic unit of society is the individual, whose rights have to be protected at all costs. We are entrepreneurial and admire individual accomplishments and we thrive in competition.

We don’t like or trust groups. We believe that committee and meetings are a waste of time and that group decisions diffuse accountability. We only spend time and money on team building when it appears to be pragmatically necessary to get the job done. We tout and admire teamwork and the winning team, but we don’t for a minute believe that the team could have done it without the individual star, who usually receives much greater pay.

Basically in our money conscious society we don’t know whom to trust and worse we don’t know how to create a trusting relationship. We value loyalty in the abstract, but in our pluralistic society, it is not at all clear to whom one should loyal beyond oneself.

We take it for granted that telling is more valued than asking. Asking the right question is valued, but asking in general is not. To ask is to reveal ignorance and weakness. Knowing things is highly valued and telling people what we know is almost automatic because we have made it habitual in most situations.

We still live in culture of what Stephen Potter so eloquently described in the 1950s as gamesmanship and one-upmanship. Potter notes that there are several ways to gain points in competitive conversation. To be an effective gamesman or lifeman, Potter notes, one must know how to win without actually cheating’ or practice the art of getting away with it without being an absolute plunk.

When we listen to someone and don’t see where it is going, we say, “so what is the point’? We expect conversation to reach some kind of conclusion, which is reached by telling something, not asking questions. When we are in the telling mode, we hope to educate to impress, to score points to entertain; when we are in the listening mode, we want to be educated, impressed and entertained.
The world is becoming more technologically complex, interdependent and culturally diverse, which makes the building of relationship more and more necessary to get things accomplished and at the same time more difficult, Relationships are the key to good communication; good communication is the key to successful task accomplishment and Humble inquiry based on Here-and-now Humility, is the key to good relationships.

Johari Window - four parts of our social psychological self.

Concealed self, open self, blind self and unknown self
Known only to self: Concealed self and Open self
Known only to others: Open self and blind self

Psychological Biases in Perception and Judgment - ORJI (Observation, Reaction Judgment and Intervention)

Filters and Biases ->Observation->Reaction->Judgment->Intervention->Observation

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