Volume 147, October 2015: Inquiry vs. Advocacy

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, 2015 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Instead of falling into an ‘Either-Or’ struggle, consider a ‘Both-And’ position.” – Jules Seeman, PhD, Professor of Psychology, George Peabody College

We leaders have become expert at being forceful advocates, arguing strongly for our views. It’s interesting – discussion, percussion, concussion – all share root meaning. Get the clanging concept? We are taught to challenge and dispute each others’ ideas, in order to win the battle and show up the smartest. Being right is far more important than finding the best answer. Being stuck in positions is a form of Advocacy – where the goal is to win the argument. Advocacy is offering arguments in favor of one’s viewpoint. Inquiry, on the other hand, entails questions aimed at exploring a position – i.e., looking into the data and assumptions behind the position, in order to learn (Senge, Peter M.: The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday, 1994.).

Creating a safe environment for dialogue means overriding years of negative experience in group discussions. People have watched the process of introducing an idea, having people beat up on it, debate it, then decide on it or throw it out – then call for another idea and get nothing.

Wouldn’t it be pleasant if we could ask people to view ideas as “theories,” as something separate from the person? This shift will permit people with ideas to expose their thought process, data and rationale so that there is no failure or shame when an idea is examined. We can balance Inquiry and Advocacy, first laying out a “theory” and its reasoning, then encouraging others to challenge it.

The conversation might sound like this: “Here is my view and here is how I arrived at it. How does that sound to you? What makes sense to you and what doesn’t? Do you see any ways I can improve it?” (Senge, Peter M. Art Kliner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard B. Ross & Bryan J. Smith. The Fifth Discipline Handbook: Strategies and Tools for Building Learning Organizations. Doubleday, 1994.).

Listen. Respect. Speak the truth.

Practice Point

Ask people to expose their thinking – their data, rationale, interests, and logic trail behind their positions, by using a tool called Structured Discussion. Each person states, “This is What I think and here is Why I think it,” in an orderly, non-interrupting way. Then encourage Open Questions, e.g., “What are your views?” for clarification and more information.


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