I have been chatty with the online BC360° community more recently. It’s probably because there is so much to talk about. And discussions these days are not easy – they often make us question who we are and what we believe. In my mind, that’s a good thing.
I typically see both sides of everything – that is both painful and eye-opening. And it drives my husband crazy. But I do have convictions and I can form opinions and make decisions, generally after I have read and researched both sides. My opinions can change if there is a shift that makes me reconsider.
I am also a consultant. I bring expertise to my clients, but not the expertise you might expect. My expertise is knowing enough about a subject and a client to ask good questions they may not have considered.
My clients’ expertise is their business. Often, they are so busy and so focused that they forget to look up from their daily work and question what they do, how they do it, and – most importantly – how they do it. That’s where my unbiased eye and ear can help.
A dear friend and fellow consultant once told me, as I was just starting my practice, that her biggest lesson when she first became a consultant was that expertise lives within the organization. She’d thought her role was to tell, but in fact, her role was to ask.
That resonated with me and became even more impactful after reading Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Not Telling. He says:
Building relationships between humans is a complex process. The mistakes we make in conversations and the things we think we should have said after the conversation is overall reflected our own confusion about the balancing of asking and telling, and our automatic bias toward telling. The missing ingredients in most conversations are curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answer.
In a complex and interdependent world, there are no simple answers. Nor can you give an answer to a complex problem and have its implementation succeed unless those implementing the solution clearly and unmistakably understand the problem, the options, the pros and cons of each option and can therefore support the ultimately decided-upon solution.
As we face the complexities of our fractured world today, perhaps humble inquiry is a place to start. Instead of jumping in to tell me what you think or why I’m wrong, it might be helpful to ask how I arrived at my conclusion, or to present me with a question about your perspective that makes me think more deeply.
In some ways, this is a mini-version of Yonason Goldson’s 800-word essay assignment – not so much to argue the other side but to try to see the other side.
Have you ever thought about how you feel when you are in a dialogue and someone is trying to convince you that they are right?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel like my competence is being challenged; like I should know that but obviously I don’t. I don’t have a problem with that feeling when I am being told facts, but I do have a problem when someone tells me what I should believe or think.
But when someone asks me a profound question about my thoughts that challenges me to think more deeply and examine the source of the thoughts, I feel as if I am growing.
What I love about Schein’s subtitle is the “gentle” art of asking. I think we need more gentle these days, don’t you?