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Inquiry and Reflective Listening: Lessons for Leaders

  • Posted by: asadmin

We’ve been writing about the importance of developing mediator qualities in today’s leaders. In earlier editions of this newsletter we’ve discussed leadership presence (April), integral vision and systems thinking (March), and leadership style (February). The 21st century leader must step back from the intense heat of the conflict and look out over it, like a climber who summits a peak. Today’s article discusses inquiry and it’s partner reflective listening.
Inquiry: Asking Curious Questions


A leader who pays attention to inquiry will ask broad curious questions. Before a leader can transform conflict s/he must understand how all sides see the issues. What information and perspectives are missing from the current discord? A leader who brings comfort and a willingness to facilitate a dispute with the trait of “not knowing”, brings greater capacity to shift the conflict. Mark Gerzon, Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

The reason advocates usually can’t resolve conflicts themselves is that they are too immersed in the facts to see the other side or to ask the expansive questions.
Inquiry will serve as a restraint on a natural impulse to dive into the heart of the controversy and fix it. “Inquiry requires courage. When competing voices all claim to have the answer, it takes considerable self-confidence to call for inquiry. ” Id at 122.

So the quality of the questions a leader asks is critical. Conflict is transformed by questions that inspire new ways of thinking and the possibility of learning and growth. This is the positive side of conflict. Open ended inquiry means questions that don’t assume an answer or a narrow either or choice of options. Deep inquiry opens the conversation.

Listening: Inquiry’s Partner

Deep curious questions alone aren’t enough. The leader must receive and capture responses to his or her questions through deep and reflective listening. Listening is a complicated process that most human beings take for granted. It is a three part process consisting of receiving, attending to and responding to oral and visual stimuli. The new leader must pair his/her deep questions with open curious listening. This is not listening to defend a position or shore up your beliefs. This kind of listening doesn’t assume the answer; rather, it opens the listener to new ways of thinking or analyzing the information received.

As a result of deep listening and curious questions, new ideas, learning and growth result. Eventually the conflict can be transformed.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: asadmin

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