Written by Kate Billing, Founder & Creative Director, Blacksmith

(Part Four in a seven-part series) A 5 minute read.

Here are the links to the previous blogs in my series on using my COVID-19 acronym as a recipe for thriving in ‘the current situation’.

This week it’s ‘I for Inquiry’ that gets our attention.

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INQUIRY

This is one of those words where I often ask myself “Is that spelled with an ‘i’ or an ‘e’?” Either way, the general gist of its meaning is ASKING.

In times of complexity such as our current reality, it is all too easy to rush through overfilled days – Zoom meetings, home schooling, planning supermarket runs, getting jobs done around the house, reinventing your business…the list goes on…and on…and on. Not to mention working out which-Level-means-what and how that will impact EVERYTHING for you as well as your Work Team, your Home Team, and your community!

In the interests of moving quickly, getting decisions made, solving problems (at work or at home), and just trying to deal with ‘all of the things’, you may find yourself in telling mode instead of asking mode.

I invite you to consider what greater gains can be made in connection, understanding, ideas, engagement and performance by creating the space to go deeper and ask more, better questions, of yourself AND others.

As a place to start, here are FIVE suggestions about how to do a better job of INQUIRY:

1. MAKE SPACE – you may not feel like you have time to journal (a conversation with yourself) or to have a human-to-human conversation with someone else but believe me, the benefits far outway the investment.

Just 10 minutes a day with a pen, paper and your own mind is a game-changing self-inquiry practice that will pay back dividends all day, every day. Here’s an article by organisational psychologist and author Benjamin Hardy on why ‘Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life’.

Also, creating more spacious meetings (for example by simplifying the agenda and not booking back-to-backs!) will allow you and the people you’re engaging with the opportunity to notice more, to share experiences and ideas, to wonder aloud, to create better solutions together, whilst feeling more seen and heard. All of this will help you better navigate the current complexity more successfully.

2. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS – Now that you’ve made the space for INQUIRY, make sure you don’t get distracted by people or things that aren’t in service of the conversation you want to have.

If you’re journaling, find a quiet space, tell your Home Team that you’re in ‘do-not-disturb time’ for the next 10 minutes, put your phone on airplane mode and get to it!

If it’s a Zoom meeting or another on-line platform you’re using to have a conversation, turn off email, switch your phone to airplane mode, and only have applications and documents open that are required for that conversation. Also ensure you have a pen and paper to take long-hand notes, to make doodles and to draw models, as these things better support ‘sense-making’ later.

3. ASK SIMPLE QUESTIONS – The simpler the question, the more detail you’re likely to get in the answer. Asking simple questions of yourself and others creates space for the mind to do its work, to think deeply rather than just respond with something easy, that it already had lined up.

Also, think about things you’d really like to know the answer to, rather than the usual transactional stuff, especially questions you don’t already know the answer to and things that will provide you with an opportunity to understand people better or to access their ideas and energy. This goes for conversations with yourself AND with others!

Last week renowned author Daniel Pink shared this great post from Quartz at Work, with 20 questions to ask instead of “How are you doing right now?” I’m hearing lots of leaders and organisations talking about people having ‘check-in fatigue’, so being more thoughtful and creative with how you engage with your people is timely as we continue in a WFH reality over the coming months.

4. LISTEN MINDFULLY – Listening is a leadership superpower and something we think we all do…but we don’t. Not really. In 2010, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert published some findings:46.9% of the time our minds are caught up in their own thinking, in absent mind-wandering, and we are not paying attention to the people around us or to our own present-time experience. Basically, we’re out to lunch, caught up in thoughts of the future and the past for almost half of our lives!

Listening mindfully takes practice. Notice when you have drifted off and deliberately bring your attention back to the present moment, to the person or people you’re with, and to what they’re saying – not just the words, but their emotional tone, pace of speech, facial expressions and the physical energy they are embodying. ALL of this is even more important when we are only engaging with people through a screen.

5. SURRENDER JUDGEMENT – This might be the trickiest bit of all. Humans are built for judgement. We are natural categorisers and we’re constantly seeking to sort this from that, to identify if people are on our team or against us, and whether evidence confirms our beliefs and identity or opposes it.

Noticing when we get into judgement, either agreement or disagreement, means we can travel deeper into inquiry, rather than end prematurely a conversation on the basis of confirmation bias or conflict avoidance.

When you feel yourself getting into judgement, a great thing to do is ask another question. This is especially helpful if that judgement is disagreement. When in doubt…ASK. Setting aside your own interests for a moment and seeking to understand more about another person’s perspective, experience and ideas will help create connection, engagement, understanding and maybe even a better solution.

Much of what’s above is about INQUIRY with others in conversation but a very important place to practice and be curious is with yourself. To help you get started with that, here is our one-page guide to beginning a journaling practice (Start your journaling practice’ downloadable PDF) so you can make a start!

Next week we’ll look at DISCOURAGEMENT and its inevitable presence in times of change and creativity. We’ll look at how harnessing discouragement can help us understand our limiting beliefs, connect with others who can support us, and create energy for the work in hand.

KateB

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