“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. Schein
Want to build trust and respect? Ask…and listen.
In his book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, Edgar H. Schein challenges us to do three things:
• Do less telling
• Learn to do more asking in the particular form of Humble Inquiry
• Do a better job of listening and acknowledging.
Telling “puts the other person down.” Schein suggests that healthy relationships – whether personal or professional – require that interactions be “equilibrated,” with give-and-take that is based on trust and mutual respect. This give-and-take also requires an element of humility.
Throughout his book, Schein describes and provides examples of three types of humility. The first, basic humility, is “not a choice but a condition.” Some cultures value and practice humility at greater levels than we see and experience most often here in the United States, but even in the more outspoken culture of the United States we know that a certain level of humility is expected. The second type of humility is optional humility where we are humble and deferential around people who we perceive to be more accomplished and successful than we consider ourselves to be.
The final type of humility, and the one Schein deliberates on most extensively, is here-and-now humility. This type of humility comes into play when we find ourselves dependent on someone else. When we find ourselves in such circumstances, our status is inferior because we know that the other person has something or knows something we need. Schein suggests that on occasions like this, humble inquiry can be very useful.
Schein suggests that even though this type of behavior “runs counter to some important aspects of U.S. culture,” he believes that to successfully interact with people with whom we are interdependent, we need to make the shift from mostly “telling” to becoming better at asking and listening. He reminds us that “the missing ingredients in most conversation are curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answers.”
According to Shein, a genuine and inquiring attitude combined with specific questions that show interest and respect will stimulate more truth telling and collaboration. As the quality of communication increases, the task is accomplished more efficiently and more effectively. Humble Inquiry is not a checklist to follow or a set of prewritten questions. It is a behavior that comes out of respect, genuine curiosity, and the desire to improve the quality of the conversation by stimulating greater openness and sharing of relevant information.
Wishing you grace, peace, and simple abundance…and proficiency in the art of humble inquiry.