153: Humble Inquiry with Edgar and Peter Schein

Too often we are knowers instead of learners. Yet as knowers, we close down conversations, dis-incentivize sharing information or perspectives, and risk the health of our team and organization. To be a learner requires us to accept that we don’t know everything and, just as important, that our team members often know more than we do. When we cultivate a relationship based on caring and curiosity, we foster psychological safety and much more.

In this episode, I speak with father and son duo, Edgar and Peter Schein. Ed is Professor Emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. He is one of the original scholar-practitioners in the fields of organizational psychology and organizational development. He may be best known for first expanding our understanding of organizational culture. His books, including Process Consultation, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Helping, Humble Consulting and Humble Leadership are translated and published worldwide and his consulting and coaching has transformed leadership since the 1970s. His latest work, Humble Inquiry 2nd Edition, co-authored with his son Peter, is an international best seller.

Peter is the co-founder and COO of OCLI.org. Prior to his role there, Peter was a strategy and corporate development executive at large and small technology companies in Silicon Valley. He is co-author of The Corporate Culture Survival Guide 3rd Edition, Humble Leadership, the 5th Edition of Organizational Culture and Leadership, and the 2nd Edition of Humble Inquiry.

The three of us talk about Humble Inquiry – what it is, why it’s important, and how to do it effectively. We talk about the humble component and the inquiry component, and how together, they are a magical combination that every manager and team can benefit from.

Get one of 10 signed copies of the book Humble Consulting if you’re a member of the Modern Manager community. This book is particularly focused at client-facing roles and consultants, but the lessons are applicable even beyond those. To get a copy, you need to be a member and one of the first 10 people to request it. Join the Modern Manager community — employees of government and nonprofit organizations get 20% off any membership level.

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Read the related blog article: The Simple Brilliance of the “Humble Inquiry” Approach


Website: www.ocli.org

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/peteraschein/

Book: Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

Key Takeaways:

  • The “Humble Inquiry” approach is a way of reacting to situations at work by asking versus telling your team what to do.
  • Begin with the mindset that you can’t know everything therefore, have much to gain by caring about your team members and their perspectives.
  • Foster a deep curiosity to learn from people around you.
  • Ask open ended questions without presuming to know the answer. Continue to ask questions that explore further instead of jumping to conclusions too early.
  • Practice deep listening by focusing on their response without interjecting your own thoughts.
  • Reward people for being open by listening to and incorporating their ideas, and by thanking them for sharing even if you disagree.
  • If you respond with judgement, anger or dismissiveness, people may fear being open and honest with you again. This leads to destructive behavior, such as hiding mistakes and not mentioning problems, which is harmful to teams and organizations.
  • If your team gets stuck, shift from the content of your discussion into the process. Ask questions like “Are we making progress?” and “Are we relating to each other well?”
  • When we build trust and openness using Humble Inquiry, we build psychological safety which leads to positive, healthy workplaces.

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