Humble Inquiry builds the kinds of positive, trusting, balanced relationships that encourage honest and open interactions.
- Extremely helpful to anyone who deals with people of different statuses, cultures, ages, and occupations, particularly leaders
- Written by one of the giants in organizational psychology, organization development, career development, and organizational culture
- Shows how to build trust, encourage the free flow of information, and create positive relationships and healthy organizations
We live, says Ed Schein, in a culture of Doing and Telling. In our interactions with other people, particularly when we are the boss, we tell them what we think they need to know or should do instead of building relationships with them. But telling makes people feel inferior and reduces communication and organizational effectiveness suffers.
In today’s world, a free flow of information is crucial. Anybody anywhere could have that vital idea or insight that could mean the difference between success and disaster. Or worse-Humble Inquiry was inspired by Schein’s twenty years of work on safety in high-hazard industries and the health-care system, where honest communication can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Schein defines Humble Inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” In other words, do ask, don’t tell. Humble Inquiry builds the kinds of positive, trusting, balanced relationships that encourage honest and open interactions in both our professional and personal lives.
In this seminal work, Schein explores the various types of humility, contrasts Humble Inquiry with other kinds of inquiry, shows the benefits Humble Inquiry offers in many different settings, and offers advice on overcoming the cultural, organizational, and psychological barriers that keep us from practicing it. This is a major new contribution to how we see human dynamics and relationships, presented in a compact, personal, and eminently practical way.
About this book
In this book I will first define and explain what I mean by Humble Inquiry in Chapter 1. To fully understand humility, it is helpful to differentiate three kinds of humility: 1) the humility that we feel around elders and dignitaries; 2) the humility that we feel in the presence of those who awe us with their achievements; and 3) Here-and-now Humility, which results from our being dependent from time to time on someone else in order to accomplish a task that we are committed to. This will strike some readers as academic hairsplitting, but it is the recognition of this third type of humility that is the key to Humble Inquiry and to the building of positive relationships.
To fully explain Humble Inquiry, Chapter 2 will provide a number of short case examples, and Chapter 3 will discuss how this form of questioning is different from other kinds of questions that one may ask.
Chapter 4 will discuss why it is difficult to engage in Humble Inquiry in the kind of task-oriented culture we live in. I label this a “Culture of Do and Tell” and argue that not only do we value telling more than asking, but we also value doing more than relating and thereby reduce our capacity and desire to form relationships. Chapter 5 argues that the higher we are in status, the more difficult it becomes to engage in Humble Inquiry while, at the same time, it becomes more important for leaders to learn how to be humble from time to time. Not only do norms and assumptions in our culture make Humble Inquiry difficult, but the complexity of our human brain and the complexity of social relationships also create some constraints and difficulties, which I discuss in Chapter 6.
Finally, in Chapter 7, I provide some suggestions for how we can increase our ability and desire to engage in more Humble Inquiry.
About The Author
THE AUTHOR- IN HIS OWN WORDS
My book Humble Inquiry represents a culmination and distillation of my 50 years of work as a social and organizational psychologist. After undergraduate training at the University of Chicago and Stanford, my Ph.D. training at Harvard’s Department of Social Relations in the early 1950s was as an experimental social psychologist. I then spent four years at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and began a gradual process of becoming more interested in the sociological details of what went on between people in various kinds of relationships.
My first major research was on the indoctrination of military and civilian prisoners of the Chinese Communists (Coercive Persuasion, 1961), which led to an examination of such indoctrination in large corporations when I became a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1956. It seemed obvious that the important thing to study next was the process of interaction of the individual with the organization, which led to the successful coauthored book on this topic—Interpersonal Dynamics (coauthored with Warren Bennis, Fritz Steele, David Berlew, and later John Van Maanen, 3rd ed. 1973) and to an integrated text which helped to define the field (Organizational Psychology, 3rd ed. 1980).
The indoctrination and socialization research led inevitably to the discovery through a 15-year panel study that in an open society like the United States, individuals will exercise choices and will be able to shape their careers around strong self images or “career anchors” (Career Dynamics, 1978; Career Anchors, 4th ed. coauthored with John Van Maanen, 2013).
Working with Group Dynamics workshops in Bethel, Maine, and consulting with Digital Equipment Corporation for many years led to the concept of process consultation and the important discovery that the best path to helping people learn is not to tell them anything but to ask the right questions and let them figure it out. I first spelled this out in 1969 as a contribution to consultation methodology (Process Consultation, 1969; Process Consultation Revisited, 1999) and found that it applies in many interpersonal situations, especially when we try to give or receive help.
All of these processes happen within a culture, so a more detailed study of organizational and occupational cultures led to intensive work on corporate culture—how to think about it, how to change it, and how to relate culture to other aspects of organizational performance. With Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th ed. 2010) and The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (2nd ed. 2009) I helped to define the field.
The role of leaders as both creators of culture and ultimately victims of culture led to more detailed analyses of interpersonal processes and to two empirical studies of organizational cultures—Strategic Pragmatism: The Culture of Singapore’s Economic Development Board (1996) and DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation (2003).
The years of consulting, teaching, and coaching inevitably led to the realization that some processes such as Helping were not well understood and often poorly practiced. The book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2009) was thus an attempt both to analyze and improve that process. It was in that analysis that I realized that Humble Inquiry is not just necessary when we give or receive help but is a more general form of asking that builds relationships. I realized further that building positive relationships is at the core of effective communication and getting work done safely and well. But my work on culture showed me, at the same time, why Humble Inquiry is difficult.
The current book Humble Inquiry brings together all of these trends in showing how culture and individual behavior interact, and what it will take in the way of countercultural behavior to deal with the changes that are happening in the world.