Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answers, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”  Edgar H. Shein

About three years ago, one of my pseudo-daughters and dearest friend and Maui soul sister, Claire, recommended the book Humble Inquiry. I purchased it soon thereafter but left it behind in Texas on one of my visits. I had forgotten about it. If you’re like me, it’s not uncommon to have a stack of unread books or to be reading several at the same time.

At the time I purchased it I must have done quite a bit of shopping, and it probably didn’t fit in my carry on. Yep, I’ve been know to fly with a duffle bag, only to have to purchase a larger one, or a suitcase, as a result of power shopping trips with friends. You know who you are…wink, wink!

Well, I finally started reading the book while in TX pet-sitting for my cousins last year. Yes, you read that correctly- last year. You see I started writing this blog last October but, for some reason,  never ended up publishing it. Perhaps the Universe had a better plan, and maybe now is when we can all use a little humble inquiry.

I was hooked on the book as early as the book’s introduction. In it, the author, Edgar H. Shein, poses the following question:

Why is it so important to learn to ask better questions that help build positive relationships?

The answer: Because in an increasingly complex, interdependent, culturally diverse world, we cannot hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions and build relationships that are based on mutual respect and the recognition that others know things that we may need to know  in order to get the job done.

The other thing that struck me and made me pause, was that he claims that we, in the U.S.,  live in a culture that overvalues “telling.” Pause….think about it. We are all probably  guilty of taking the art of questioning for granted. According to the author, getting questioning right is more important than giving recommendations or advice.  Yet, how often do we, as a culture, default to the art of telling instead? Some of us tell everything and tell it everywhere….we’re all guilty…just look at social media.

I think for some of us it’s probably in our nature to tell- unless we take the time to rethink, change our outlook and learn how to ask more questions.

He further goes on to say, “The issue of asking versus telling is really a fundamental issue in human relations, and that it applies to all of us all the time.”

I published a blog last year on essential leadership skills – Leadership 101. In it I mentioned the importance of building relationships and asking the questions that enable us to get to know our employees on a deeper, more meaningful level. However, one thing I didn’t mention, and reading this book brought to light, is that the art of questioning becomes more difficult as status increases.

This made me pause as well. Think about it, questions- and the way we pose them- land very differently once we start making our way up the leadership ladder. It’s difficult enough when you are  someone’s co-worker, an equal, and have the same rank. However, as you make your way up the ladder, you are now charged with running, managing and leading an organization. Like it or not, you are now in the spotlight.

The way we pose questions can make or break relationships and derail conversations (and not in a positive way). On a daily basis  (and oftentimes moment to moment), leaders are faced with making decisions and encounter challenges often stemming from cultural, occupational, generational, gender and racial barriers and biases. Knowing the right questions to ask can move an organization forward by drastically improving the way all parties communicate.

Think about how often our conversations with co-workers, superiors, subordinates, friends and family alike go wrong and how easily we get upset with the other person, as well as with ourselves when that happens. Think about how easily our discussions can turn into arguments and hurt feelings. When we “tell” someone something,  give unsolicited advice, or we don’t like the advice we’ve been given, rather than asking the right questions, we can very easily end up in a “situation gone seriously wrong.”

So…how can we do better? According to the chapter on humble inquiry, it’s rather simple. However, its implementation is not. Doing less talking; learning to do more asking in the particular form of Humble Inquiry; and doing a better job of listening and acknowledging is not as easy to practice as we would like to think.

We are so programed to tell, to share our knowledge, our expertise; yet, we fail to overlook the fact that there will always be things we need to learn, and the best way to learn them is by asking the appropriate questions in the appropriate manner.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that places more emphasis on task accomplishment. We are driven by accomplishments, competition and comparison and how we are viewed by others. In other words, we are driven by the Ego- but that’s for another blog!

So…this is where I left off writing last year. I am now being guided to continue as follows:

Given the times we are currently living, all the fake news, discrepancies, misinformation,  the social media bubble we’ve been programmed for, and the blatant lies and lack of leadership we are witnessing from our political leaders right before our eyes, we often fail to look at the other side of things, ask some difficult questions and be willing to learn (and in a lot of cases-unlearn). Many of us tend to just go with our own perspective on things rather than exploring other avenues.

I was listening to a Brene Brown podcast recently where a listener asked why people prefer to believe fake news as apposed to researching and fact checking. Ms. Brown went on to say that the  reason we do this, as research has shown, is that we  prefer to sit with something even if it is false because it would be more uncomfortable to research the lie or the fake news and find that our beliefs were erroneous. How crazy is that!!! Some people prefer to sit ignorantly blissful as opposed to wise and uncomfortable!?!? That damn Ego will get you every time!

Being open minded and constantly questioning and looking at different perspectives is a practice in mindful awareness, And given the times, we can all use some mindful awareness, open minds, open hearts and the empathy and willingness to see and question different perspectives.

When I was on social media earlier,  I  came across a post by The Holistic Psychologist, Dr. Nicole LePera, which speak precisely to this point. In her post, she listed 4 ways we can become more open minded in this area. They are as follows:

  • Regularly consume content that challenges your perception / world view. This allows us to get past our emotional  responses, listen to objective points being made and  understand various frameworks of thought even if they aren’t our own.
  • Learn to become a free thinker.  Most of us are conditioned to repeat  information we’ve been taught. A free thinker engages in conscious thoughts and questions. This is actually a practice of self-trust and self- inquiry.
  • Have relationships, friendships or mentorships from people who have a wide variety of beliefs. This humanizes ” opposing” view points and allows us to evolve beyond one dimensional patterns of thinking.
  • Practice meditation. This allows us to learn a different way of responding to our thoughts and allows us to sit with difficult emotions- which is the foundation of open-mindedness.

We tend to underestimate the power of questioning these days and how valuable and enlightening it can be to learn things we may not have otherwise known had we not taken the time to genuinely engage in the art of humble inquiry. All of the aforementioned points allow us to leave our Ego at the door, allow us to expand and grow, and gives others we engage with permission to do the same. 

Darlings, stay tuned for my next blog where I plan to expand and go into detail on the art of questioning and the numerous types of questions we can add to our toolboxes.

May we continue to move forward with love and intention, curiosity, unity and hearts wide open! JTC

2 Replies to “Humble Inquiry”

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