Advocacy and Enquiry – a First Look


A colleague of mine, Pete Burden, recently led a session at a conference in Slovenia on Advocacy and Enquiry.

When we advocate, we assert, we “put out”, we say stuff. In meetings where there is a lot of advocacy, there aren’t many questions. A lot of the questions are actually more advocacy dressed up as questions; they are leading questions such as “Don’t you think we should…?”

Much of the advocacy takes the form of “certainties” and “opinions” about how things are and how they should be. “I think….blah”

Advocacy is the way to express to others what is going on inside our thoughts, feelings and our will. I think, I feel, I want…

When advocacy dominates a conversation, questions tend to not get asked; we stifle curiosity and undervalue “not knowing”. It is all about what we have to say, to “put out” into the room.

Advocacy is the opposite of enquiry.

When advocacy is the dominant form of communication, enquiry stops.

When we enquire (Inquire, in some countries), we ask questions, we open ourselves up to not knowing, to researching, exploring.  Enquiry is about being curious and allowing things to emerge, to reveal. When we enquire, actions and decisions emerge, not out of advocacy but out of ongoing enquiry.

Enquiry leads to further enquiry. Questions give birth to further questions. Sometimes those questions allow a particular line of enquiry to develop, sometimes new lines of enquiry open up. Sometimes we get broader, sometimes we become more focused.

When an enquiry arrives at a possible action or decision point, we usually arrive at a further enquiry into that action or decision: “What would happen if we…?” “Who could do …?” “When might be a good time to start…?”

Occasionally, an enquiry exhausts itself (with no more questions to ask at this stage) and a powerful piece of advocacy can emerge. For the moment, there are no more questions to ask. A light goes on and we have an idea or action which can be advocated. “Let’s do X.”

And then the enquiry starts again:

Who, what, where, when, why and how…

Enquiry, because it is ongoing, is accompanied by action. But in ongoing enquiry, our questions might become more quiet, inner questions, concurrent with action. We don’t advocate action when we are in an ongoing enquiry, we just get on with it! Occasionally we stop and reflect and enquire into how the action is going – either alone or socially.

So, enquiring aids and creates action, and action leads to further enquiry. This keeps the process responsive and conscious.

Ongoing enquiry keeps us responsive, because we respond to our ongoing inquiry – our questions – with further enquiry and with improvised action, occasionally also planned in advance. Occasionally advocacy arises out of the enquiry – it captures something essential in thought, feeling or action. Usually when it does that it is more or less “definitive” and may guide decision, and will always open up further enquiry.

By being responsive and staying in enquiry rather than advocacy, the exploration remains alive, ongoing, continuous and real-time. It is closer to the situation than advocacy because it is always attempting to stay “in touch” with the unfolding situation, in time.

Advocacy can be strong, motivational and truthful. However, if the environment around us is changing, advocacy can become quickly anachronistic, out of touch, and thus unresponsive.

Enquiry, on the other hand, is a more awake state when action is occurring in a changing situation. For our enquiry keeps us in touch, alert and responsive – more conscious.

A conscious business is one that is in a perpetual state of enquiry, skilfully “playing” with advocacy to assist action,  to motivate, to distill purpose into understandable “ways forward”. But the enquiry never ceases for long.

A conscious business is one in which enquiry is its core process. Advocacy serves that process, but never usurps it.

Now, any questions…?

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