Tag Archives: Personal Growth

The fine art of 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. 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.

Trust Your Intuition?

Follow your instincts. Trust your gut. Listen to your intuition. Exhortations we’ve all heard…and we’ve all likely implored others to do the same. But how can we be sure? When should we act?

This week I’ve been re-reading sections of Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star. Ms. Beck’s insight into intuition help answer these questions for us are worth passing along so here you go.

“I learned to follow the priorities of…body first, emotions next, intuition last.

“This means that if you’re sensing some urgent message from within, first make sure your body is healthy, fed, and rested. Then check your emotions for unhealed wounds. Physical impairment or emotional shrapnel, when mistaken for psychic knowledge or the word of God, can lead you off your true path in the weirdest way. Many’s the emotionally wounded soul who got swept up in the charisma of some self-declared prophet…When in doubt, act on skepticism. Here are some signs that an inner urge is probably not a true intuitive message.

  1. The thought is accompanied by feelings of fear, anger, or desperation…the impulse itself is peaceful.
  2. You feel the urge to tell other people how they should live their lives…intuitive information about your destiny, about what you should do, comes only to you.
  3. Your body responds to the intuitive message with revulsion or dejection…your body lies closer to intuitive truth than your brain.

When you think you sense your intuition prodding you, use these three guidelines to validate the message. I’ve found them to be quite accurate and helpful since I’ve consciously began to apply them in my own life.

Wishing you grace, peace, and simple abundance…and that you carefully cultivate your intuition.


Maximizing Joy

When I work with people to help them clarify their life purpose or be more authentic in their career and in their leadership, I always ask what benefits they hope to realize as a result of this work. In almost every case, one of the benefits they are seeking is more joy, more happiness in their life.

To have more joy or happiness, we first have to understand what it is that makes us truly joyful or happy. In her book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck provides three “remedial joy exercises” that I often use with my clients.

  1. Search your brain for any memories that make you smile spontaneously.
  2. Try to remember the last time you cried because you were happy, not sad.
  3. Search for incidents where you have felt intense yearning, and perhaps jealousy about something you have never experienced.

What about you? Is there room, maybe even a longing, for a little more joy in your life? Get a pencil and paper and do these three exercises for yourself. What have you got to lose?

Okay, you’ve determined what brings you joy. Now what?

Beck goes on to say, “Once you’ve figured out what brings you genuine joy, it goes without saying that you should immediately begin filling your life with as much of it as possible… Putting joyful activities into every nook and cranny of your day is a great way to start toward your North Star. The great thing about this strategy is that it can vastly improve the quality of life almost immediately, without requiring any massive changes.

“For example, Geraldine feels soothed and happy when she visits bookstores, so she started going to one during her lunchtime, instead of hanging out at the cafeteria in her office building.  Brent loves golf, so he decided to get up early and hit balls at the driving range twice a week… Marianne’s greatest joy comes from being around children. Since her own babies are grown and gone, Marianne volunteers as a classroom assistant in an elementary school, and she reads to children during a weekly ‘Story Hour’ at a public library.”

So what does maximizing joy have to do with you and your career?

“…Career miracles happen when you’re so in love with your life that pushing yourself is actually easier than stopping, when you ‘do without doing.’ Joyful activity adds real value to the world, and adding value is the heart and soul of a successful career.”

Wishing you grace, peace, and simple abundance…and maximum joy.

When the “problem” is not the problem.

Have you noticed that your work, your relationships, your life would be so much better, so much happier, if the people around you would just pay attention, grow up, and do what they are supposed to do? I certainly have.

People should show more initiative. People should show more respect. They should listen more. They should realize that they are not the center of the universe. Others should understand they don’t know everything; there is always more to learn. Others should exercise more patience. People should see that I have needs, too. People should appreciate me more. They should recognize my contributions. They should appreciate what they have and stop acting as if I, and the whole rest of the world, owe them something. Others should work harder. Others should be more tolerant. People should exhibit more humility. People should give more instead of being so focused on getting more for themselves.

So, what’s the problem? Clearly, the problem lies with others…the people I have to live and work with. Why can’t they see that? It’s so freaking obvious. But they clearly can’t, or won’t.

Well then I guess it’s up to me. If I want to get to a happier place, I’m going to have to do something about all of this. So what do I do? Maybe I should just move on. I should find another job. I should change careers. I should start another company. I should find new friends. I should leave all of this mess behind.

Any of this sound or feel familiar to you? I’d be surprised if you said “No,” because it seems to happen to almost everyone at some point in their lives. For some of us it occurs again and again even after we’ve taken measures and made changes.

Here’s the pattern I’ve seen in myself and in those I’ve worked with who have found themselves in this situation. First, we enter into a new relationship, a new job, or we start a new company. It’s not all sunshine and roses but it’s energizing and gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. Life is challenging but good!

Then, after four or five years, some of the excitement begins to fade, day-to-day stuff becomes routine and seems rather boring, irritants begin to surface. The bloom is off the rose.

After seven to ten years, you go on autopilot doing what you have to do to keep the peace…to keep your relationship together or hold on to your job because you need the money. The faults and foibles of those around your come into clearer focus and become increasingly annoying but what can you do? Life and work becomes a long, arduous slog.

By the time fifteen years have passed, you’re locked in. Behaviors and attitudes have become habits. Ego, money, and fear of change inhibit making any big, bold moves.  Life isn’t exactly what you’ve hoped for but it’s tolerable and you can still find ways to distract yourself enough to keep the dissatisfaction from getting out of hand. Or perhaps, if you can just hold on just a little longer, there’s a nice payoff coming. Life becomes a search for a series of entertaining activities designed to amuse you and keep you from having to deal with the “problem.”

Why does this pattern emerge so often? How does it happen?

In my experience, it happens when we gradually, and subconsciously, move from seeing problems as challenges to work on, and instead come to see them as issues that we simply don’t want to deal with anymore. Obstacles that once invigorated and motivated us become boring, distasteful, and mundane. We want to go back to the sunshine and roses phase but we don’t know how.

Is the “problem” becoming more clear to you? While others have their problems, others are not the problem. The real problem is the “shoulds” we place on others as well as the “shoulds” we place on ourselves.

So…where do we begin in our battle with the “shoulds?”

I’ve found the best place to start in trying to solve almost any “should” problem is with me. It’s wise to begin with a little self-examination. Are my statements, assumptions, or interpretations valid? What are the “shoulds” I’m invoking in the situation? Are the “shoulds” I’m placing on myself and others legitimate? Am I avoiding the real issues? Am I willing to have the frank and honest conversations required to get to a resolution? Am I settling? Am I simply afraid of taking action, of taking the risk required? Am I tolerating the situation because of ego and/or money? Am I looking for a real solutions or am I simply looking for an escape?

This is tough stuff. We have a high need for love, approval, significance, and acceptance…even if we won’t admit it. How we live, lead, and work is the way we seek love, approval, significance, and acceptance whether we are consciously aware of it or not…and whether it is working for us or not.

Most of us have a hard time working through our list of “shoulds” on our own. I hired a “coach” to help me through the process and it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Having been through it myself, it is much easier to recognize where others are in life and help them strip away the erroneous shoulds, focus on the real problem and find a breakthrough solution. Once you know the real issue(s), odds are great that with a little courage and persistence you will emerge victorious and once again find yourself living and leading on purpose…finding ways to collaborate, create, and contribute…to find love, approval, significance, and acceptance.

Start now. List the “shoulds” you assign to others, then list the “shoulds” you’ve taken on as your own. Examine them. Which, if any, are true? What are you going to do about them? Make decisions. Take action. Live your life, don’t let it just happen to you. Game on. Your move.

Wishing you grace, peace, and simple abundance…and victory in the battle of the “shoulds.”

Advice I don’t Want to Forget.


Today I had the pleasure of listening to to John Hope Bryant speak. Though he talked for nearly 90 minutes the time passed so quickly it seemed more like twenty. I took away many key ideas and noteworthy thoughts but this one will stick with me forever…at least I will do everything I can to make it so.

“Speak without being offensive, listen without being defensive, and allow the other person to leave the conversation with his or her dignity.”

How different our homes, our schools, our churches, our communities, our politicians, our country, and our world would be if this were practiced by human beings everywhere.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and that you and I make a practice of the above in every interaction.

The biggest obstacle to creativity

The biggest obstacle to creativity is attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities. 

I got a call from someone who wanted me to lead a workshop on creativity. He needed to tell his management exactly what tools people would come away with. I told him I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a promise, because then I’d become attached to an outcome — which would defeat the purpose of any creative workshop.’ 

It’s hard for corporations to understand that creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.

Gordon MacKenzie (via kenyatta)

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…without attachment to a specific outcome.