Humble Inquiry – The gentle art of asking instead of telling, by Edgar H. Schein

Most of us have an inclination to want to express ourselves, to be seen, to be heard, i.e., to be noticed and to matter, and to be understood. Some could even be accused of liking the sound of their own voice. So why should we bother with this humble inquiry then? “Humble inquiry is the fine 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.” P2. Unless one lives alone and doesn’t need to interact with and is not dependent on anyone, then there isn’t a lot of need for humble inquiry. However, as Schein points out, we live in “an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world,” P1, where cultures arise wherever people gather, e.g., in national, regional, social, work, professional, and even familial congregations. We can choose to ignore cultural diversity, we can even ostracise, or worse, those who don’t fit in. But not only are these approaches ignorant, immoral, they are also impractical and short-sighted in our increasingly “complex and interdependent” world. A quick foray into culture is necessary to establish a common meaning: “we can think of culture as the accumulated shared learning of a given group, covering behavioral, emotional, and cognitive elements of the group members’ total psychological functioning. For such shared learning to occur, there must be a history of shared experience that, in turn, implies some stability of membership in the group. Given such stability and a shared history, the human need for stability, consistency, and meaning will cause the various shared elements to form into patterns that eventually can be called a culture.” P17 Organizational Culture and Leadership. This leads to a definition of culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” P17 Organizational Culture and Leadership. Or, put less eloquently and more bluntly, culture can be considered “the way we do things around here,” where ‘do things’ can be substituted with see, interpret, think, believe, behave, etc. The book was set within and describes aspects of culture in the USA, and...

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