Inquiry vs. Advocacy

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How we communicate with one another is constantly evolving. Demographic changes, social changes, and technology innovations provide new challenges and opportunities for how, when, and what we communicate.

You might be surprised to learn that communication at its most basic level—regardless of how it takes place, whether by phone, e-mail, text, Snapchat, Facebook, or face-to-face conversation—involves just two core elements: Inquiry and Advocacy. In their simplest forms, Inquiry is about helping the other person make their thinking known and Advocacy is about asserting personal views.

While on the surface it might seem self-explanatory, both of these deserve a deeper look.

Inquiry isn’t about asking all the questions that come to mind. Inquiry involves toning down your own judgment, asking open-ended questions, checking your assumptions, and truly seeking to understand the other person. When inquiry is done well, it can even lead the other person to discover things about themselves (deeply held beliefs or assumptions) that they weren’t conscious of.

Advocacy means making your thinking visible to the other person in the form of a recommendation, an instruction, or a directive. When advocacy follows effective inquiry and deep listening, the other person is likely to be open and receptive to your ideas.

In this way, when you combine inquiry with advocacy, it produces a series of conversational strategies. In this TED Talk, 10 Ways To Have Better Conversations, Celeste Headlee passionately details how the divisions between us are derived from uninformed communication styles. As you watch, consider the concepts of Inquiry and Advocacy. In your interpretation, which method is primarily used in Celeste Headlee’s concept of conversational competence?

This week, consider your own conversational competence and think through the impact your communication style has on others. Then, decide if you’d like to flip the model and try another approach.

“The feeling of being interested can act as a kind of neurological signal, directing us to fruitful areas of inquiry.”

– B.F. Skinner

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