The Distinction of an Inquiry-Based Conversation
In the words of a master mediator, “The future is the result of what we do right now.”
That statement lies at the heart of honest exchange between people. The choice that confronts us each day is what we do in this conversation right now.
Do we discuss our views and decide on the best course of action? Do we dive deeper, exploring the meaning we share to ensure our decision is first grounded in trust and understanding?
Because we are drawn to the simplicity of snap judgments and fast conclusions, pathways of advocacy and debate will commonly win out. They save time and usually serve us well, further reinforcing our commitment to speed in conversations. Our need to influence others and to make our convictions known runs deep.
In contrast, we sometimes suspect that the choices we confront are more complex. They require a more thorough vetting of beliefs, feelings, meanings, and perceptions.
By engaging in inquiry, as opposed to advocacy, we have the option to choose a kind of conversation with vastly different qualities and outcomes. Scholars and practitioners give this conversation many names and labels, but dialogue is the most common title.
Dialogue is a distinct conversational form made identifiable by its focus on inquiry and exploration, as opposed to advocacy and persuasion. Dialogue requires us to start with the assumption that we are ignorant in some way all of the time. The only way to fix this error in our understanding is to learn, and learning requires exploration.
A conversation guided by inquiry places importance on excavating meaning and exploring deeply what people believe and feel about a topic. Inquiry is inquisitive and curious and uses questions to probe why people think the way they do.
Advocacy, on the other hand, is about influence and change. In an advocacy-focused conversation, such as discussion and debate, we seek to convince others and have them yield to our view. We listen so we can make counterarguments, as opposed to seeking a deeper understanding.
The differences between inquiry-focused and advocacy-focused conversations are stark.
If the conversation comes to an end and team members can’t articulate what others believe and feel about an issue, topic, or decision, they haven’t engaged in dialogue.
Few of us are skilled at this unique kind of conversation. But all of us can benefit from practicing it. Dialogues start best with a question that doesn’t have a right answer. From there, inquiry can begin to uncover and shape the meanings people have in their heads.
In the words of Elie Wiesel, “You are my question and I am yours—and then there is dialogue.”
Speaking of dialogue… today’s 3rd Annual Community Conference has an hour dedicated entirely to this topic. Our first hour will be spent hearing from Chris Kolenda as he is in the midst of the Fallen Hero Honor Ride. The next hour starts at Noon ET and is a panel discussion with seasoned coaches and advisors unpacking its finer points: Why Great Leaders Distinguish Between Discussion, Debate and Dialogue. We invite you to join us today and register here for this event.