Edgar H. Schein, Ph.D., has researched, taught and consulted on human relations for over 50 years. He has also been a prolific author of helpful books. Recently he produced Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (2013) and followed that book with Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster (2016). These have been very influential in our approach to helping people.
We believe that our responsibility to clients is NOT to diagnose and then tell as recommendations. The obsession with telling in US managerial culture has had very harmful impacts by “making subordinates feel psychologically unsafe in upward reporting if they saw safety or quality issues in how work was getting done” (Schein 2016, p. xii). We want to provide real help that is fast and effective. That requires an open, trusting relationship. Trust is the one thing that impacts everything else.
Dialogic vs. Diagnostic
Working with Karl Weick, Ph.D. and Kathleen Sutcliffe, Ph.D., during their consulting efforts with the wildland fire community, has helped us understand high reliability organizing as a personal learning experience. Concepts of “loose coupling,” “sense making,” “embracing errors,” and “resilience” (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007) became understandable and real for us personally in the context of wildfires and non-fire incident management.
David Christenson, O4R CEO, has been acknowledged as a contributor to their second book on managing the unexpected in his work with them during his time with the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center.
Organizational learning in a mindful approach (Langer, 1997) is central to the new skills needed today to move beyond measurement, analysis, and problem solving.
Dialogic organizational development co-creating workable responses are called “adapted moves” by Schein. These are mindful approaches that emerge from “new kinds of conversations of a more dialogic, open-ended variety” (Schein 2016, p. xiv), not predefined and inflexible tools or processes.
The key operational concepts include the spirit of humble inquiry, curiosity and not knowing. These build relationships that enable clients to learn how to learn and continually improve, the ultimate goals of humble consulting.
Langer, E. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning, De Capo Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness, De Capo Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Schein, E. H. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, California.
Schein, E. H. (2016). Humble consulting: How to provide real help faster, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, California.
Weick, K. E. and Sutcliffe, K. M. (2001). Managing the unexpected: Assuring high performance in an age of complexity, Jossey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, San Francisco, California.
Weick, K. E. and Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the unexpected: Resilient performance in an age of uncertainty, Jossey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, San Francisco, California.