by Rick Pannemann
In my previous blog post, I wrote that “…Listening is the first step in the process of inquiry. Inquiry is the necessary component to understanding. Understanding leads to building effective communication and solutions.”
So what is inquiry, exactly? At ICO, we define it as: The process of seeking knowledge by asking questions and pursuing a dialogue.
Oblivion isn’t inquiry
Have you ever been in that staff or project meeting where everyone is bursting at the seams to get their point heard? Where everyone is talking over everyone else? Or perhaps you’ve experienced that one-on-one session with your manager in which he or she seems completely oblivious to every word you’ve said? Worse, perhaps you’ve been that manager.
We have an innate human need to be heard and understood. It’s natural and to be expected. Watch any toddler with his mother and you’ll hear it right away in his repetitive cries for her attention (“Look at my toy! Look at my toy! Look at my toy!”). As we become more socialized, as we begin to interact with the group, the community and the world at large, we make steps to integrate what others are saying with our own intention. The problems begin when we focus only on our intention and tune out the others.
So what can we do about this?
1. Bring in an impartial observer to pay attention to team behaviors and actions
2. Provide a performance review of team interactions
3. Create some rules to support good dialogue
Years ago, I participated in a regular staff meeting in which we all talked all over each…until the boss finally decided to do something about it. He brought in a monitor whose job it was to take notes about our behavior and actions during the meeting. Once all the meeting business had concluded, the monitor then provided a factual overview of our performance. Needless to say, we had our eyes — and ears — opened. Over the next several meetings, we began to change our behavior — and call each other out, politely, but firmly. We made some rules regarding how we held the dialogue.
An easy first step
Interestingly, our thoughts at ICO run along the same vein. One of the simplest measures that anyone can take is to ask open-ended questions. Rather than leading someone to your own point of view, these types of questions will encourage active listening and a continued line of open-ended questions. In other words, they drive dialogue.
So your challenge before our next blog is simple. The next time you find yourself in a dialogue-challenged meeting, do something different. Only ask open-ended questions. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.