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Advocacy and Inquiry: Key Components of Dialogue

Dialogue: Its Component Parts

The first step in dialogue is balancing Advocacy and Inquiry.

Instead of making statements about what we believe, begin asking questions about what others believe. This is in accord with a principle articulated by Saint Francis and popularized by Stephen Covey:

“Seek first to understand; and then to be understood.”

When I attack your position and repeat my own, I strengthen your attachment to your position. When I ask you about your position in a spirit of inquiry, however, and empathically paraphrase what you say, you tend to hold your viewpoint more gently. You are more open to other perspectives, increasing my potential for influence.

How do you balance advocacy and inquiry?

  • Step back.
  • Target your inquiry by asking questions to clarify what the other person believes.
  • Examine the other person’s mental maps.
  • Suspend your own assumptions.
  • Learn before you try to influence.
  • Advocate your opinions through carefully chosen questions and statements.

The Rewards

  • Building rapport
  • Building business relationships
  • Extending your influence

Tips for improved advocacy:

What to do

  • State your assumptions, and describe the data that led to them.
  • Explain your assumptions.
  • Make your reasoning more explicit.
  • Explain the context of your point of view.
  • Give examples of what you propose. As you speak, try to picture the other person's perspective on what you are saying.
  • Encourage others to explore your model, your assumptions and your data. Refrain from defensiveness when your ideas are questioned.
  • Reveal where you are least clear in your thinking.
  • Even when advocating: listen, stay open and encourage others to provide different views.

What to say

  • "Here's what I think, and here's how I got there."
  • "I assumed that..."
  • "I came to this conclusion because..."
  • "To get a clear picture of what I'm talking about, imagine that you're the customer who will be affected..."
  • "What do you think about what I just said?" or "Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?" or "What can you add?"
  • "Here's one aspect which you might help me think through..."
  • "Do you see it differently?"

Tips for improved inquiry:

What to do

  • Gently walk others through their thinking process and find out from which data they are operating.
  • Use unaggressive language. Ask questions in a way that does not provoke defensiveness or "lead the witness."
  • Draw out their reasoning. Find out as much as you can about why they are saying what they're saying.
  • Explain your reasons for inquiring, and how your inquiry relates to your own concerns, hopes and needs.
  • Test what others say by asking for broader contexts or examples.
  • Listen for new understanding that may emerge.
  • Check your understanding of what others say.

What to say

  • "What leads you to conclude that?"
  • "What data do you have for that?"
  • "What causes you to say that?"
  • "Instead of "What do you mean?" or "What's your proof?" say "Can you help me understand your thinking here?"
  • "What is the significance of that?" "How does this relate to your other concerns?" "Where does your reasoning go next?"
  • "I'm asking you about your assumptions here because..."
  • "How would your proposal affect...?" "Is this similar to...?"
  • "Can you describe an example...?"
  • "Am I correct that you're saying...?" 

Inquiry

What is the simplest way to move a conversation toward dialogue? Ask a Question!

Whenever your conversation tends toward a discussion, where positions harden and frustration flares, turn the conversation around by asking questions.

As a conversation moves forward, continue to ask questions that relate directly and obviously to what the other person has been saying.