The Case for Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.”  ~ Edgar H. Schein

                               

Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building.  We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.

However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.

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And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy.  But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns?  If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.

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Coaching by nudges

A recent post on this blog about “what coaching is“, as usual prompted further questions and requests for more information on what coaching entails.  Clearly there remain misunderstandings about the role of coaching within businesses and organisations, with some people still associating it with a form of remedial ‘treatment’. Having said that, I do see far greater awareness and understanding today, than even a few short years ago. Not so long ago, you might have heard a reaction from a colleague that went something like this.

“Oh you are getting ‘coaching’.  Why?  What’s wrong?  Did your annual appraisal go badly?”

The implication (and misunderstanding) of course being that coaching was being used as a tool to ‘fix’ something that had clearly gone wrong.  Perhaps to raise someone’s poor performance to a more acceptable level.

Now, I find you are much more likely to hear something like the following.

“Oh you are getting ‘coaching’. Amazing!! They must think a lot of you and see massive potential.  I wish I could get coaching through my company.”

This shift in mindset, also reflects a much more accurate understanding of what coaching is; an approach that helps people fulfil their potential.  Not a tool for rehabilitation or rectification, but a vehicle that allows people to explore their values and beliefs, their vision and their purpose. It is much more sought after, and is now seen as one of the ‘perks’ of the job. Career changers, especially those in middle management and executive positions, are more and more looking for coaching as an incentive, and benefit provision, when choosing between companies, reflecting the increasing value being placed upon it.

Coaching enables people to gain greater self-awareness and insight, allowing them to make informed choices and decisions, to be more conscious of how they react in given situations, and to develop life-strategies that will serve them more effectively.  Coaching, quite simply, helps people get more of what they want, be more fulfilled, and enable more success.

One of the dilemmas Continue reading

The Power of Silence

“Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.” Euripides

How comfortable are you with periods of silence during conversations?  Do you feel uncomfortable? Are you compelled to fill the void and keep the cascade of words flowing?

I was prompted to think about this by a short article I read recently by Angela Dunbar, in which she claims that almost all coaching and talking therapies are designed to work by encouraging the client to open up and talk about what’s happening for them, to speak their thinking aloud and verbalize any insights they may be having.  All of this is based on the (not unreasonable) assumption that, by expressing out loud what’s going on in your mind, problems will be unpicked and solutions found.

The article goes on to point to research in the field of cognitive psychology (see paper by Schooler, Ohlsson, and Brooks) that suggests that the act of verbalizing thoughts actually prevents insights arising. This may be because the brain has limited resources, and if they are concentrated on the conscious activity of talking, there is reduced capacity for the non-conscious activities that are necessary for insight to occur.  The research evidence suggests that insight involves processes that are distinct from language, and which benefit from not being distracted by speech.

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‘Fly on the Wall’ consultancy

I thought I’d share with you this week one of the most effective, yet simplest, consultancy techniques I have seen used.  It does not involve great expense, or even take a great deal of time. It does not involve reading lengthy consultancy reports or attending turgid feedback sessions.  In fact, it uses the resources and brains you already have at your disposal in your teams today.

fly-on-wallGather together a good cross-section of people  (but no more than about 8-10), from up and down the organisation,  ideally with different perspectives of your business, from both an internal and external facing focus.  Invite the ‘owner’ of the business problem or issue that requires ‘consultancy’ to spend 5-10mins (no more) outlining the issue. No prolonged explanations about why things won’t work, or haven’t worked. Just a simple, easy to understand, explanation of the facts, what is trying to be achieved, and what the business benefits will be once realised.

The collected group then have 5 mins to Continue reading

Coaching with emotion

We can’t stop ourselves having emotions. Indeed, why would we want to?  So, how do coaches coach from a place that ensures their emotions do not hi-jack their approach and derail the effectiveness of their engagements with clients?  What happens if you feel sorry for a client?  What if you get an overpowering desire to tell someone what they need to do?  What if something they say upsets you, or makes you angry?

Masterful coaches recognise that they can’t (and shouldn’t) block their own emotions, but rather, that they use these emotions to help them be a better coach.  By raising awareness of their own reactions and emotions, coaches can channel their coaching skills into better listening, richer rapport and deeper presence.

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

source: graciexela.blogspot.co.uk

If your emotions leak into your questions, then they will lose impact, and judgements you are making will be transparent. If you are focusing on how you feel, you will not be listening fully to the client, and presence in the moment will suffer. Much better to be open and honest about emotions that are showing up for you. Sharing with a client that, “….this is making me feel uncomfortable right now, how is it making you feel?”, is fine. In fact, role-modelling the sharing of emotions in this way, may well help elicit a deeper exploration and sharing of emotion by the client.

It is when coaching reaches this emotional level that great things often start to happen, and progress and movement becomes possible.

The importance of engaging on an emotional level was discussed in a previous post called the The Upstairs & Downstairs Brain.

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If you feel that you (or members of your team) would benefit from exploring ways to make substantial improvements to personal and collective effectiveness and productivity, please get in touch. Tailored learning programmes are available that have delivered proven benefits, whether your current focus is on:

  • a need to engage your workforce in a positive and compelling way through a transformation
  • how to ensure you get the best out of your investment in talent 
  • ensuring your senior teams, team leaders & middle managers are equipped to handle the conversations that are needed to ensure your organisation is operating as effectively and productively as it could be. 

Simply submit your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to get in touch with you for an informal initial chat.