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Humble Inquiry – a Practical Kindness

In this step we will explore a highly practical way in which we can all take up an everyday practice of kindness and compassion - ‘humble inquiry’. In the video above, Mark considers why curiosity and active non-judgemental listening can be powerful forces for change in our relationships and working life.
In this step we will explore a highly practical way in which we can all take up an everyday practice of kindness and compassion – ‘humble inquiry’. In the video above, Mark considers why curiosity and active non-judgemental listening can be powerful forces for change in our relationships and working life.
Edgar Schein described ‘humble inquiry’ as the gentle art of asking instead of telling; 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’.

Listen with Humility

We might think we already know how to ask questions, but to discover new possibilities and nurture mutual understanding with others, asking questions must be accompanied by a willingness to listen to the answers with humility and without judgement. This is what changes questions into a vehicle for connecting, hearing and being heard, building trust, modelling strength, sharing vulnerability and learning. Rather than impose our worldview, authority or ‘leadership’ on others, inquiry of this kind can be an everyday kindness that creates space to think in a spirit of togetherness. Done authentically, it can actively build trust, safety, belonging and inclusion in human relationships.
This form of asking shows interest in the other person, signals a willingness to listen, and, thereby, temporarily empowers the other person. It implies a kind of here-and-now humility.
(Schein, 2013)

Humble Inquiry – a Practice

We would like you to practice your ‘humble inquiry’ skills with a colleague. Make some time for a conversation about an issue that’s current in the workplace – half an hour is enough but go longer by all means. In the conversation itself try to be curious and pay real attention to how your colleague responds – both in terms of what they say and how they say it.
As a guide, the best questions are often deceptively simple and direct, for example:
  • What’s happening?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What patterns are you noticing?
  • What are you learning?
  • What can you now do?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
But remember, the quality of your listening is as important as the questions you ask. This isn’t about imposing your own understanding and feelings on the discussion and on your colleague. Be interested in the responses you get, and use your curiosity to follow them to a deeper understanding of the issue you are exploring together.
 
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An Introduction to Leading with Kindness and Compassion in Health and Social Care

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