Balancing Advocacy And Inquiry: The Key To Think Together

According to William Isaacs, dialogue is more than just talk. It’s about embracing different points of view that result from people thinking together. This requires dialogic skills that essentially embody Listening, Respecting, Suspending, and Voicing.

The term ‘advocacy” means getting support from another person to help you express your views and wishes, and help you stand up for your rights. Someone who helps you in this way is called your advocate.

Self-advocacy refers to an individual's ability (and effort) to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate, or assert his or her own interests, desires, needs, and rights (VanReusen et al., 1994). 

Simply, it means speaking up for oneself to express one’s point of view about a certain subject matter and/or assert one’s rights.

Some synonymous meaning for advocacy include: urging, upholding, promoting, encouraging, advancing, recommending, and championing.

Hence when a person is advocating a subject matter, he/she is asserting his/her stand about the subject matter, regardless of others’ perspectives.

Inquiry is the act of asking questions to gather information to understand a subject matter and appreciate others’ perspectives.

While it appears that advocacy and inquiry are dichotomous, they must coexist for dialogue (think together) to prevail in any functional team and organisation. 

Organisations that embrace an inclusive culture ensure that their employees’ voices matter. Such organisations garner the opinions of their employees in problem-solving decision-making, and innovating among other things. 

However, an inclusive environment that values the gathering of diverse opinions without the engagement of inquiry would only lead to a collection of diverse perspectives with members not fully understanding the rationale behind each of these perspectives. In short, an inclusive organisation without practising inquiry is not really “thinking together”.

To yield the ultimate benefit of a dialogue to generate unprecedented possibilities in how an organisation resolves business challenges, innovates, makes quality decisions, and so on, the act of advocacy and inquiry must be kept in balance, to ensure diverse perspectives are garnered, and sufficient inquiries are made to understand why people think and feel differently toward the subject matter. 

The core of a great inquiry lies in having the team members ask quality questions to unravel seeds of brilliance to derive ideas and solutions to resolve the issues/challenges faced by the team. When team members are in dialogue, they listen attentively to what is being said by others with the utmost respect to embrace diverse thinking. The members are mindful to suspend their judgement even if the points raised by others do not resonate with them. They would, at the appropriate time, ask questions to genuinely understand why others think and feel differently. Team members in true dialogue ask questions that build upon each other's questions till the team attains understanding and clarity about the issue/solution at hand. The process of dialogue is a reiterative process that sees team members share their opinions about the subject matter and other members contribute to the dialogue by asking questions.  Respecting and suspending judgments are critically needed for dialogue to prevail.

Organisations that have talented and intelligent individuals are vulnerable to blindly practise self-advocacy in isolation of inquiry. If left unchecked, their brilliant individuals would self-advocate without engaging in inquiry, negating the needed collective wisdom which is a good blend of inquired ideas that lead to the attainment of unprecedented possibilities to resolve issues effectively. 

On a note of caution, when team members readily agree to one perspective to interpret a subject matter with little or no inquiry, they might be in danger of practising collective advocacy a.k.a. herd mentality which robs them of the opportunity to generate great and unprecedented possibilities. 

In summary, a team in dialogue is one that balances advocacy with inquiry in an inclusive environment where employee voice matters and where advocacy and inquiry are balanced to facilitate the team to truly Think Together.

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