Advocating Inquiry

Gavin is my youngest grandson. Like many healthy children at age three, he is captivated by the sound of his voice and zealously curious…his mouth runs like an outboard motor. Last week, my wife and I ate dinner with Gavin and family. During the meal, everyone was engaged in a debate about a local community issue, except Gavin. He sat intensely silent, politely waiting for a chance to jump into the conversation.

Finally, someone took a breath. And he got his motor running…rattling off a litany of brilliantly ordered, utterly random (and pretty compelling) questions in record time:

“Why is your head so much smaller than your body?”
“Why are dogs not like cats?”
“Why do people die?”

And the list went on and on. More impressed with his speed than frustrated with his interruption, his father asked, “Gavin, why do you ask so many questions?” Gavin responded simply, “Because I don’t know everything.”

Dr. Chris Argyris, a Harvard professor, introduced the concept that there are two primary ways that team members communicate: Advocacy and Inquiry. Dr. Argyris says that Advocacy, i.e. stating your case or making your point, is the kind of communication that most people are accustom to. The intention of Advocacy is to persuade, found in statements like:

“I think we should…”
“We ought to take this route..”
“Based on research, I recommend…”

Inquiry is rare and more valuable than Advocacy. The intention of Inquiry is to seek insight or clarity, found in questions such as:

“Why do you think…?”
” How can we make that idea even better…?”
“What evidence do you have that might help us understand …?”
“Which aspects are you referring to…?”

When a leader has lost their way and their team is bordering on disengagement, they will often begin to advocate solutions; attempting to personally generate a renewed vision or a better plan for the team instead of with them. In the midst of this type scenario, people begin to think or say things like “he just doesn’t listen” or “this guy must not care what we think “. In reality, the temporarily off- track leader is leaning too heavily on this innate bent to advocate. Sincerely pushing for the best solution, but oblivious of his or her imposing approach.

Recognizing the value of Inquiry is priceless, especially in trying times. When we find ourselves in tense predicaments, we need the to seek the humility to assume a child like mindset and sincerely inquire for answers from the perspective of those around us. We’ll then see a renewed zeal for discovery and creativity that will captivate our teams and ourselves. Why?

Because we had to courage to act like we don’t know everything.

Working Journal Entry: Do you ever feel the energy beings sucked out of the room during your decisions making meetings at work, discussions with your civic group or debates at your dinner table? May I advocate a bit more inquiry as you deal with important matters and people in your leadership and life?

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. – Peter Drucker

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 29:20

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” – Pablo Picasso

When we have arrived at the question, the answer is already near. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A prudent question is one-half of wisdom. – Francis Bacon

In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question. – Richard Saul Wurman

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. – Proverbs 19:2


Leadership and Life Journal: A new way to look at the important things you already know.