Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy

One of the challenges most people face is the balancing act between inquiry and advocacy. Inquiry is the skill for investigating and understanding information or another's point of view. Advocacy comes into play when we begin to sell our own thoughts or ideas to another. We at this point are advocating our position and attempting to be right or win. While there is nothing wrong with being right and/or winning, if this is our focus it can significantly block learning for the individual that is locked into advocacy. If it is a primary behavior in a team or organizational culture, it can be very detrimental to learning, creativity and interpersonal relationships.

In many organizations, advocacy behavior is typically the type of behavior that gets rewarded. In fact many organizations see the very definition of competence as the ability to solve problems - to figure what needs to be done, and influence those required to get the outcome required. These individuals typically become successful based on their abilities to debate forcefully and produce results. Inquiry skills many times go unrewarded and unrecognized. However, as problems or systems become more complex and diverse, they can quickly outpace our personal experience and understanding. This drives the need for insights that go beyond our personal view and the need for learning. This is where a reliance on advocacy skills will become counterproductive. What is required is a blending, or balancing, of advocacy and inquiry.

Ultimately, the goal of applying a balance of inquiry and advocacy into a systems activity is maximize the learning and engagement of the stakeholders involved. By it's very nature, introducing inquiry into these situations will result in confirming and disconfirming data, assumptions and beliefs that are held by the stakeholders. This can be a very uncomfortable situation for those involved. Practicing inquiry and advocacy means being willing to open yourself to change and to test your own ideas openly. The result will almost always be a more creative outcome than could have been obtained through a typical, singularly advocated solution from a single source. So think about interactions you see within your own sphere of action. Do you see any of these in practice? What about in your actions, do you tend to one or the other, a balanced approach or do you just "clam up" in the face of extreme advocacy? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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