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Balancing inquiry and advocacy

Over the past weeks, I’ve been talking about the importance of tapping into the warrior side and lover side of leadership as critical for igniting successful partnerships. You can’t have one without the other; you need to express both to be successful. But the real question is how does this very subjective thing of lover-warrior leadership become real and not just more jargon on leadership. It becomes real when we can feel the difference of each within yourself and thus begin to have conversations that demonstrate the kind of behaviors and words chosen from each leadership style (the warrior and the lover). So what does it really look like and sound like?

The lover questions to facilitate proper inquiry and to learn more about what the other is thinking. That knowledge helps him see things more directly through his partner’s eyes. And this knowledge allows the partnership to more effectively work toward common ground. The warrior side of you, on the other hand, manages advocacy. Through it you speak for a particular point of view, reveals to others the thinking and potential assumptions that lead you to that particularly point of view, and as such you advocate for a particular direction.

But, as you can imagine, there are right ways to do inquiry and advocacy. Let’s talk about inquiry first.

Productive and Unproductive Inquiry

With unproductive inquiry, you might think that you’re asking questions that will help you get to the bottom of how the other party is feeling or thinking, but what you’re actually doing is asking questions that you already know (or at least think you know) the answer to. In the legal world, they call this “leading the witness.” Frankly, these are insincere questions formulated really to advocate for what you really want. They are in fact a way of manipulation – or at least can come across as manipulation and worse as if the one receiving it has not mind of their own. Unproductive inquiry presents itself when a person:

  • Presents a question that already contains the answer. For example: “Don’t you think your company would be better off handling the development in-house?”
  • Disguises statements as questions. “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”
  • Asks questions to avoid saying what you really think about the situation.

In productive inquiry, on the other hand, you ask questions that help you explore others’ thinking and assumptions about a certain situation, such as:

  • How do you see it?
  • Help me to understand?
  • What am I not seeing?
  • What is your reaction to what I have said?
  • What is the best approach here?
  • Do we have the best answer?

Engaging in productive inquiry leads others to speak to an issue and express emotions as well as facts, and establishes real connection beyond what you are doing or trying to accomplish. People will experience you as a person they can trust and bounce ideas off of, rather than someone who is using you only to get somewhere.

Unproductive inquiry can be a really devastating thing. Not only is it unproductive, it’s a relationship killer. Because when a leading question is asked, the intent is obvious, and it leaves the other person feeling deceived and manipulated. Worse, when you’re asked a leading question, the other person can be left feeling like the person asking the question is having a relationship with himself and not you as a genuine other participating in the conversation

Effective and Ineffective Advocacy

In advocacy, the warrior in you offers direct examples of why you think the way you do. You state your belief openly and completely, and then invite your partners to see for themselves how you arrived at the conclusions regarding the direction you want to go. You state in no uncertain terms your ideas, directions, and interpretations and then invite the other people in the room to either agree or disagree with them.

Effective advocacy is a matter of saying something like, “No, we need to reevaluate the terms of the agreement so that the termination provision protects my investment because I don’t understand how the termination provision provides us with a safety net the way it is currently written and can lead us somewhere that won’t protect either one of us.” Ineffective advocacy is a matter of saying something like, “We have to redo the terms of the agreement because it’s not working.” Basically, the latter differs from the former in that you’re not saying why you want to move in a different direction. You’re not advocating your position when you do this; you’re simply arguing for change without giving the all-important reason why.

Effective advocacy requires clarity in your communicating. It calls for being explicit about what you want from the partners and providing concrete ways to assess whether you and they have met those requirements. The effective warrior uses objective criteria as support (and not unyielding leverage) for her position or argument in the conversation.
When practicing effective advocacy, you may use phrases, such as:

  • Let me tell you where I am right now.
  • This is what I am thinking while you where talking.
  • My reaction to that is.
  • I’m uncomfortable right now, and I’d like to tell you why.

When there’s too much warrior in the advocacy, the warrior will advocate unilaterally and bully others through their position or influence. While doing this, they usually provide absolutely no options for rebuttal or inquiry; they don’t reveal their thinking; and when pressed, they give abstract, generic examples that add nothing in terms of understanding and learning for the one receiving the communication. These are the over-dogs, those so intoxicated with their power that they think they can push everyone around. We’ve all worked with these types before. What happens? They leave others visually agitated, completely closed down, or locked in battles that cause complete disconnection in the conversations. They don’t lead. They don’t advocate. They force.


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