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Day 29/01/2015

Assertive Inquiry: An Excellent (and Free) Tool For Better Teamwork, Creative Listening & Decision-Making …*

Assertive Inquiry: An Excellent (and Free) Tool For Better Teamwork, Creative Listening & Decision-Making ...* | rethinked.org

Assertive Inquiry is a framework for engaging in productive dialogue that derives from the methods and theories of leading theorist of organizational learning Chris Argyris. It is an approach to communication, which, “blends the explicit expression of your own thinking (advocacy) with a sincere exploration of the thinking of others (inquiry).”

“In other words, it means clearly articulating your own ideas and sharing the data and reasoning behind them, while genuinely inquiring into the thoughts and reasoning of your peers.”

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, pg. 136

I first learned about assertive inquiry while reading Roger Martin’s Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking (2009). Martin calls Assertive Inquiry one of the top three most important tools of an integrative thinker (along with generative reasoning and causal modeling) as it is a particularly helpful framework for communicating through clashing models and efficiently bringing together often contradictory models and various points of view into a whole greater than its parts.

I remember thinking it sounded like an incredible tool and skill to develop but failed to follow up on practicing. A few weeks ago, I read Martin’s latest book, Playing to Win where he once again mentions the power of Assertive Inquiry in helping teams harness their diversity and enhance and elevate collaboration, ideation and decision-making. Assertive Inquiry starts with a simple beginning stance:

“I have a view worth hearing, but I may be missing something.” It sounds simple, but this stance has a dramatic effect on group behavior if everyone in the room holds it. Individuals try to explain their own thinking–because they do have a view worth hearing. So, they advocate as clearly as possible for their own perspective. But because they remain open to the possibility that they may be missing something, two very important things happen. One, they advocate their view as a possibility, not as a single right answer. Two, they listen carefully and ask questions about alternative views. Why? Because, if they might be missing something, the best way to explore that possibility is to understand not what others see, but what they do not.”

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works pg.136-137

Once you are aware of the perspective from which you are approaching the conversation and have focused on cultivating the proper stance, there are three key tools that you must employ as the conversation unfolds: 

  1. Advocating your own position and then inviting responses (e.g., “This is how I see the situation, and why; to what extent do you see it differently?”)
  2. Paraphrasing what you believe to be the other person’s view and inquiring as to the validity of your understanding (e.g., “It sounds to me like your argument is this; to what extent does that capture your argument accurately?”)
  3. Explaining a gap in your understanding of the other person’s  views, and asking for more information (e.g., “It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. I’m not sure I understand how you got there. Could you tell me more?”)

These kinds of phrases, which blend advocacy and inquiry, can have a powerful effect on the group dynamic. While it may feel more forceful to advocate, advocacy is actually a weaker move than balancing advocacy and inquiry. Inquiry leads the other person to genuinely reflect and hear your advocacy rather than ignoring it and making their own advocacy in response. 

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works pg.136-137

Assertive Inquiry could have huge payoffs for teamwork. It creates an atmosphere of authentic openness, inquiry and creative listening. It also seems like an excellent framework for having better conversations all around–at work or at home, with one individual or many. Try it out …*

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