Facilitate Conversations and Provide Feedback with Advocacy and Inquiry

By Steve Hansen, PCC.

There are many different management styles that leaders use to get work done effectively. Two behaviors, if used in appropriate measure, can strongly enhance facilitating conversations and providing feedback — critical skills of an effective manager. These two behaviors are Advocacy and Inquiry.

Advocacy refers to stating one’s views,
while Inquiry refers to asking questions

  • High quality Advocacy involves stating your views, providing the data you see as salient, stating how you go from the data to your conclusions, while being open to influence. 
  • High quality Inquiry includes questions that are open-ended, that test your understanding of others’ meanings, that probe how they arrive at their views, that solicit the views of everyone at the table, and that encourage challenge of your own views.
  • Encouraging others to question your views and checking to ensure you have understood others’ meanings accurately are the types of inquiry that help keep a conversation focused, produce deeper understanding, demonstrate your openness to learning, and reduce defensiveness.

Things to be aware of:

  • When there is a high degree of advocacy and little inquiry, people are unable to learn about the nature of their differences. If you hear that people are advocating but not asking questions, inquire into their views before adding your own.
  • When there is a high degree of inquiry, but no one is willing to advocate a position, it is difficult for participants to know where others stand. If you hear people asking questions for information but not stating an opinion, advocating your view may help the group move forward.
  • Even when the quality of advocacy is high, it needs to be balanced with inquiry or people are likely to feel they are being pushed.
  • Conversations that involve a high degree of advocacy often move quickly from point to point, while inquiry can slow the pace of the conversation.

Facilitating Conversations

When you facilitate a conversation, you can determine if inquiry is useful by paying attention to the quality of people’s reasoning. Ask yourself whether you are hearing data, interpretations, or conclusions. The purpose of your inquiry should be to help all parties involved make their reasoning explicit so they can learn from their different perspectives.

Typically, when people advocate, they only state their conclusions, not the steps in their reasoning. Too often people assume that words or terms have the same meaning for everyone. Testing your own understanding, and encouraging others to test theirs, can reduce miscommunication and improve the efficiency of the conversation.

Providing Feedback

Combining high quality advocacy and inquiry is important when giving others feedback. You need to be willing to disclose your assessment, explain the consequences of the person’s behavior without attributing bad motive, and be ready to change or expand your interpretation based on what you hear.

People are often concerned that if they advocate their views they will be seen as controlling. Yet, if they only inquire, they won’t be able to influence their desired outcomes. By combining high quality advocacy and inquiry, people can create organizational cultures of mutual learning and action.

The skill of balancing advocacy and inquiry requires clear communication of what you are advocating, active listening, assessing the needs of the other(s), allowing for divergent views, and being willing to be influenced. This open approach to management will create more team alignment and a more bought-in and committed workforce.

From: The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research. David Coughlin and Mary Brydon-Miller (eds.). Philip W. McArthur.

For more about the effective use of advocacy and inquiry as a manager, and developing your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Steve.