Asking instead of Telling

Ed Schein’s latest book Humble Inquiry: the gentle art of asking instead of telling, (2013), represents the culmination and distillation of his 50 years as a highly respected social and organizational psychologist in the US.

Miscommunication is most often the root cause of disharmony in workplaces, poor business performance, relationship breakdown, safety incidents etc. Ed Schein, writes a very cogent and concise book on how our culture of doing and telling, gets in the way of building trusting relationships based on good communication.

Telling often has the effect of putting another person down and implies that they don’t already know what they are being told, and ought to know it. Questioning on the other hand temporarily empowers the other person in the conversation and makes the questioner more vulnerable. This builds trust and draws the other into the conversation.

According to Ed,

“Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building relationships based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Ed simply and clearly discusses humility and makes distinctions about the different kinds of humility. He argues that one of these, which he refers to as ‘Here-and-now Humility’ results from our being dependent from time to time on someone else in order to accomplish a task to which we are committed.

Humble Inquiry helps build more trusting relationships, which facilitates better communication and, thereby, ensures collaboration where it is needed to get the job done.

His examples are informed by a wealth of experience in hospital settings, corporations, and in everyday life, and he draws on these to demonstrate different forms of questioning in respect to Humble Inquiry.

If you are interested in some practical ways to increase your leadership, and improve your relationships, at work or at home, then I would highly recommend reading this short, practical piece of wisdom.

Jill Tideman

Start the conversation