It’s time to revive healthy discussions
Whether we’re in a meeting, at leisure with our friends or arguing with our family, most of us have a style when it comes to sharing ideas. Some of us tend to ask more questions and approach discussions with an open mind, while others come prepared with our ideas fully-formed and confident that we have the right idea. These two styles are called ‘inquiry’ and ‘advocacy’ and diving deeper into their meanings can help you have more productive discussions within your team.
What is inquiry and advocacy?
Both are styles that all of us use when we approach discussions — even if you’re unaware of the terms, it is likely that you are using one of these approaches.
Inquiry — those who inquire tend to ask a lot of questions, trying to understand the whole picture on the go so that they can form their ideas. They’re usually open-minded, ready to listen, facilitators of discussion and they welcome input from everyone.
Advocacy — those who advocate tend to bring their fully-formed opinions to the table. They’re confident and passionate, ready to take action and want to convince the room of the facts as they know them.
Neither approach is better than the other, and each one has its place, but the trick is to find the right balance in each situation.
The dangers of leaning heavily on one style
At first glance, taking an inquiry approach may seem like the more respectful approach to take; after all, it’s a good thing to ask questions and get a full view of the situation before you come to a conclusion.
Too much inquiry, however, can start to undermine your authority. Asking questions all the time, as a leader, may start to look like you haven’t got a firm idea. Your team can lose their trust in you and wonder if you’re really certain in the decisions you are making.
Some leaders are naturally advocates and ask a lot of questions to make it seem like they’re taking an approach of inquiry, but this doesn’t work either. It’s important to be honest — if you have a firm opinion or course of action in mind, you should tell your team honestly, rather than asking questions to create the illusion of asking for their input. When their input and ideas aren’t taken on board, you run the risk of seeming unsympathetic and disingenuous.
Of course, leaning too heavily on advocacy is also dangerous — you run the risk of steamrolling everyone else’s ideas and maybe more dangerously, you may not have all the information, leading you to make a wrong decision. Admitting you were wrong is an important leadership skill, but asking questions and having an open mind to different perspectives can help to combat being wrong in the first place.
It’s all about finding the balance.
Why do we find it so difficult?
Our natural tendency to be either inquirers or advocates makes it hard for us to get out of our comfort zone. Writing for The Guardian, Alex Clark mentions that the Internet has also had an effect on our tendency to shy away from discussion and healthy debate.
“The discussion of the possible limits and limitations of free speech recurs on an almost constant basis across social media, and perhaps nowhere so starkly as on Twitter, where those disagreeing with one another rail at anyone who will listen – and indeed, anyone who won’t. Twitter’s problem is its encouragement of the individual’s “broadcast mode”, where the superficial appearance of a conversation is, in fact, two or more people simply stating and restating their views with ever-intensifying fury. Nothing real is at stake: the exchange can be abandoned at any point. Hacked off with someone? Block them. Too shy to block? Mute (the word is telling).”
Leaders have to be careful that they aren’t creating a Twitter-like atmosphere in their teams. Discussion should be encouraged with a healthy dose of passion, confidence, open-mindedness and a willingness to listen.
Are you ready to start bringing discussion to life in your team by balancing inquiry and advocacy? People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.