The culture of tell – and taking a risk!


I had a great learning experience yesterday which I would like to share, not in that “look at me aren’t I clever’ sought of way but because it fits into an area that I have increasingly become interested and curious about. I gained a considerable amount of confidence to continue to do what is a natural style for me and may be prompt some reflection for you too!

“we take it for granted that telling is more valued than asking. Asking the right questions is valued, but asking in general is not. To ask is to reveal ignorance and weakness. Knowing things is highly valued, and telling people what we know is almost automatic because we have made it habitual in most situations. We are especially prone to telling when we have been empowered by someone else’s question or when we have been formally promoted into a position of power”

Yesterday, I was promoted into a position of power as Edgar H. Schein describes in his book Humble Inquiry. I had been asked to facilitate a senior team around an issue, and my internal client emailed me in advance and reflected that may be she had given me a hospital pass.

So I had spoken to both my HR client and the Director to clarify expectations and agree a plan for the morning. All good stuff this contracting!

So I came to the morning, and with Schein’s book poking me in my mind, I swopped my plan around, furiously scribbling process flows and re writing questions in which to kick of the session and for various points based on the process. I was after all the expert and expected to lead this group, through facilitation to an answer.

Then in one moment as the Director kicked off the meeting, I pushed the scribbled notes aside, and whilst I can’t remember what I actually asked, my intent was to find out what was on their mind and what they would like from their time together. Whoosh, 90 minutes later each of the six team members had really opened up the issue, been really rather tough on themselves about their own role in the issue rather than the people we were intending to discuss and we got to a place that the Director had expressed that he only hoped possibly achieve at the end of the session.

So what do I think happened? Due to the fact I can’t remember the questions I asked means they were obviously not particularly clever, it was clearly my intent of “humble inquiry” as Schein calls it. I truly believe that I took a state of ignorance and asked for information in the least biased and non threatening way. I gave up the power invested in me for one moment and trusted the group, they were after all adults and senior people.

So what can we learn from my experience? Whether we are facilitating, training, leading or coaching others why not just drop the power bit for one moment, be genuinely curious. I wonder what you might achieve?


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