Inclusive Communication

Balancing Inquiry & Advocacy

Balancing advocacy and inquiry is a very important tool that increases our potential to learn in difficult or challenging situations, especially when a successful resolution is enhanced or even dependent on the full contribution of all team members. It enables us to gain more insight into other’s reasoning, build on multiple perspectives, and develop more creative solutions.

Through conversations with others, by balancing advocacy and inquiry, we can skillfully share our views with others and come to understand their assumptions and reasoning.

An imbalance between advocacy and inquiry can lead to dysfunctional conversations and ineffective group processes. Here are some helpful protocols for learning how to balance advocacy and inquiry:

Make your thinking process visible (walk up the ladder of influence slowly)
What to Do What to Say
State your assumptions, and describe the data that led to them. "Here’s what I think, and here’s how I got there."
Make your reasoning explicit "I came to this conclusion because..."

Explain the context of your point of view: who will be affected by what you propose, how they will be affected, and why.

Give examples of what you propose, even if they’re hypothetical or metaphorical.

"I'm proposing 'x' and I expect it will have the most impact on 'y' because...".

"To get a clear picture of what I’m talking about, imagine that you’re the customer who will be affected..."

As you speak, try to picture the other people’s perspectives on what you are saying "How are people reacting to what I’m saying?"


Test your conclusions and assumptions
What to Do What to Say
Encourage others to explore your model, your assumptions, and your data.

"What do you think about what I just said?" or “Do you see any flaws in my reasoning?" or "What can you add?"

Refrain from defensiveness when your ideas are questioned. If you’re advocating something worthwhile, then it will only get stronger by being tested. "Here’s what I’m proposing. Can you help me test out my reasoning?"

Reveal where you are least clear in your thinking.

Rather than making you vulnerable, it defuses the force of advocates who are opposed to you, and invites improvement.

"Here’s one aspect which you might help me think through..."

"I’m still working through this but here’s what I have so far..."

Even when advocating: listen, stay open, and encourage others to provide different views. "Do you see it differently?"


Ask others to make their thinking process visible
What to Do What to Say
Gently walk others down the ladder of inference and find out what data they are operating from.

"What leads you to conclude that?"

"What data do you have for that?"

"What causes you to say that?"

Use unaggressive language, particularly with people who are not familiar with these skills. Ask in a way which does not provoke defensiveness or "lead the witness."

Instead of "What do you mean?" or "What's your proof?" say, "Can you help me understand your thinking here?
Draw out their reasoning. Find out as much as you can about why they are saying what they’re saying.

"What is the significance of that?"

"How does this relate to your other concerns?"

"Where does your reasoning go next?"

Explain your reasons for inquiring, and how your inquiry relates to your own concerns, hopes, and needs. "I’m asking you about your assumptions here because..."


Keeping the thinking process visible when there are different points of view
What to Do What to Say
Again, inquire about what has led the person to that view.

"How did you arrive at this view?"

"Are you taking into account data that I have not considered?"

Make sure you truly understand the view. "If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that..."
Explore, listen, and offer your own views in an open way. "Have you considered..."

Listen for the larger meaning that may come out of honest, open sharing of alternative mental models.

Use your deep listening skills.

[See Deep Listening tool description]
Share inferences or assumptions out-loud. "When you say such-and-such, I worry that it means..."
Raise your concerns and state what is leading you to have them. "I have a hard time seeing that, because of this reasoning..."

Adapted from Senge et al (1994).