How to Manage People Using Inquiry

In my previous post, we began exploring managing people by using the art of inquiry.  In that vein, if you’re a boss, then asking questions of the people you’re in charge of has If you’re a boss, then asking questions of the people you’re in charge of has definite advantages over telling them what to do all the time. However, I’m not referring to using leading questions, to which you already know the answers. Questions should be genuine, based on curiosity and without an agenda. Effective leaders master the art of “humble inquiry,” says Edgar H. Schein, PhD, an MIT Sloan School of Management professor emeritus and consultant.

In his new book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), Dr. Schein describes his title’s skill as “the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Unfortunately, asking questions runs counter to traditional business cultures that value achievement and performance over building relationships. Nonetheless, soliciting others’ input is a fundamental aspect of human relations for leaders who want to foster solid relationships, trust, communication and high performance.

In my work as a coach, I find that many of our conversations lack inquisitiveness, as we’re reluctant to concede that we don’t know everything. Many organizations expect their leaders to be wise, set direction and inspire us.  In truth, leaders are the ones who should be inquiring and listening to others’ responses. Employees cannot excel at complex interdependent tasks until their leaders build positive, trusting relationships and facilitate safe, upward communication.  That doesn’t happen unless managers are willing to open up dialogue by asking genuine questions. When the boss asks a subordinate for ideas, opinions and perspectives, he/she is communicating respect, care, and trust. In turn, that person is more likely to be engaged in bringing out their best work.

When is the last time your boss asked for your opinion? What affect did it have on your relationship and your motivation? I’d love to hear from you, drop a comment. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.