One of my favorite topics to teach, in any teambuilding, leadership or communication skill-related class, is Peter Senge’s concept of balancing advocacy and inquiry in conversation. Advocacy means explaining one’s own thinking and reasoning while advocating for a position, rather than keeping hidden agendas and withholding relevant information. And even more importantly, inquiry means spending at least as much time, if not more, asking good questions and actively listening in order to understand another person’s position or perspective on the issue.
Personally, I have a long way to go in skillfully achieving this balance in my own conversations. I do well with sharing relevant information but I need to work on my inquiry skills. But where I really get frustrated is in dealing with personality types who are uncomfortable with any type of conflict or disagreement and prefer to avoid it altogether. What do you do when someone just doesn’t want to discuss the issue? They don’t want to listen to you explaining your own position, and they don’t respond to your attempts to get them to explain their own.
I think I understand why they do this. It’s not about being cowardly or self-serving. For some people, to discuss a conflict is to dignify and perhaps magnify something they feel is unproductive, damaging, or maybe just trivial. They believe it is better to hold their tongues and let the problem work itself out or just go away.
But problems and issues don’t usually just go away, especially interpersonal problems. When someone ignores them, especially someone in a leadership position, problems simply seek alternative outlets. Or they fester and grow.
I struggle with how to use the idea of inquiry and advocacy to take on the very concept of conflict resolution with folks who prefer to avoid rather than tackle. How do you show respect for their preferences and still advocate for the view that many (most?) conflicts must be dealt with? More importantly, how do you stop them from simply shutting down and walking away from the very conversation? I’d like to hear your thoughts.