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The Simple Brilliance of the “Humble Inquiry” Approach


This article was based on episode 153 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the chance to win a copy of Humble Consulting when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.


When we jump to conclusions, assume we know everything we need to, and move forward without first exploring a situation, we risk more than making a poor decision. After a while, we’ve trained our team members not to raise concerns, share problems, or ask for help. If our attitude is to ignore their perspective or bulldoze past them, why would they want to talk with us?


In order to have true collaboration with our teams, in which we get to the root of issues and make optimal decisions, we need open communications in which everyone feels safe and heard. Peter and Ed Schein have written the book, literally, on how to do just that in their book Humble Inquiry, an international best seller. Ed is Professor Emeritus of MIT and may be best known for first expanding our understanding of organizational culture. Peter worked on strategy and corporate development at Silicon Valley tech companies and is currently the COO of OCLI.org. Ed and Peter teach us here how to use the simple steps of the Humble Inquiry approach with our own teams in order to create trusted, empowered, and innovative workplaces.


THE MINDSET OF HUMBLE INQUIRY


As with many effective management practices, Humble Inquiry begins with a mindset. Before you enter a conversation, take a moment to get into the ideal state of mind. Humble Inquiry is more than just asking questions. It’s also about how you listen and respond.


The more authentically you can ask from a place of deep curiosity, the better your questions will be. The more you truly care about the other person and their perspective, the easier it will be to learn from them. Keep in mind that the conversation is not the end goal itself, but rather a method of intervention in order to produce a successful, collaborative outcome.


THE 3 STEPS TO A HUMBLE INQUIRY APPROACH


Start With A Question

If you ask a question while secretly knowing what you think the answer is, your team will sense it. Instead, assume that you don’t understand the full picture. Seek to learn how they see a situation instead of telling how you see it.


Even where there isn’t an obvious issue, it helps to start with a question. Ask open ended questions such as “What’s on your mind?” or “Tell me what’s going on.” These questions invite the other person to share without any preconceived notions of what the answer should be.


Respond With Deep Listening

When listening to our colleagues, it's only natural to want to respond to their thoughts by sharing our own. Humble Inquiry encourages us to listen deeply by focusing on our teammates’ responses without interjecting. Continue to ask questions that explore more of their thoughts so that we can start to know what they know.


Reward Your Colleagues For Being Open

Sometimes we ask a question but then get upset or dismiss the answer when it’s not what we wanted to hear. Negative reactions will cause our colleagues to feel apprehensive about opening up in the future. If they don’t feel like their voices matter they will think that speaking up is a waste of their time or worse, a risk to their career.


Make sure to acknowledge and reward openness by thanking your colleagues for their thoughts. Incorporating their ideas is also a way of rewarding your colleagues for sharing and will naturally encourage them to speak honestly again.


QUESTION THE PROCESS IN ADDITION TO THE CONTENT


Sometimes it feels like a conversation gets stuck. In these moments, we’re no longer making progress and occasionally this results in people getting upset at each other. When this happens, Peter and Ed advise to move from the content of the agenda into exploring the process. Ask questions like “Are we making progress?”, “Is this approach working?”, and “Are we relating to each other well?” By taking a step back and questioning the context of the conversation, it’s easier to see why things have gone off track.


Humble Inquiry isn’t a personality trait. It’s about how we approach and react to situations at work by acknowledging that we don’t know it all, that life is complex, and that getting everyone’s perspective is essential. When teams work to build their relationship in this way, trust and openness develops. This then leads to a greater sense of psychological safety, which in turn fosters a healthy and productive workplace.


Next time you need to solve a problem, take a step back. Acknowledge that there is a bigger picture that you can’t see on your own. Engage your colleagues with care and curiosity. They may lead you and your team down paths you never could have imagined.


KEEP UP WITH EDGAR AND PETER SCHEIN

Website: www.ocli.org


Get the chance to win a copy of Humble Consulting when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Membership includes episode guides and guest bonuses to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 153 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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