The Importance of Inquiry

In a good conversation the essential companion to advocacy is inquiry. After you make your point or share your concern, consider ending with a simple invitation for the other person to respond such as, “What do you think?” or “Do you have any concerns about this?” This feedback is important to ensure mutual understanding. If you don’t inquire, people may ignore what you say and proceed to tell you what they think without addressing what you have said. This is a bad habit.

Productive inquiry is a method of engagement, a way to be present with yourself and with others. Attentiveness and genuine curiosity are the most important tools, including the willingness to really listen to the other person. Effective inquiry means asking questions from a position of curiosity to better understand the roots of another person’s concerns, position or opinion. The purpose of inquiry is not to challenge what someone has said or to make them justify what they think or feel. The purpose is to understand their underlying rationale for taking a particular position. Effective inquiry shows the other person that they are heard. This builds trust in a relationship. It also identifies assumptions you may have made that are not correct. Conflicts can be minimized.

“What” questions are more effective than “Why” questions. People often interpret “Why” questions as a challenge to their position that requires justification. Here’s a couple of examples. “Why did that happen?” versus “What could we do to avoid this next time?” “Why are you charging the owner for that?” versus “What are your concerns that caused you to charge the owner for that?”

Consider your motivations. Are you more concerned about learning than prevailing? Entering a conversation with a stance of openness, curiosity and reflection may help you have a far more effective conversation than you had imagined possible.



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