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Advocacy orientation vs inquiry orientation

Long ago, I was in a meeting with my team and a few other colleagues, including my boss. One of the team members presented a new project plan that she came up with. As seniors, my boss and I had a little more experience with the customer and we shared simialr approach to developing the plan.

My boss listened intently without interruption and then started asking the team some questions listened to their perspectives, and also sought out more information about the project, such as conducting research or talking to other experts in the field. He ended the meeting 30 min earlier and suggested we meet after 4 days and suggested a 30 minute meeting and take a decision.

I was curious, and after the meeting I asked my boss why he did not just suggest our approach and just come to the decision immediately and unnecessarily call for another meeting. I said that we could have just got the team executing right way with our approach. After all we had experience to support our logic.

He said that since it was ‘not time-critical and there was no right or wrong approach’ his goal was to understand the different perspectives’ and allow the team to come with a solution that emerged from themselves’ as consensus. He said if the ideas come from themselves, it would have higher ownership and build confidence for the future. “We are anyways there to provide guardrails”, he said.

I had been following that advice from that day 20 years ago and it has been one of the most valuable learnings. Much later in life, I came across the terms – advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation – I realised the power of these concepts.

Advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation refer to two different approaches to communication and problem-solving. Advocacy orientation involves taking a stance on a particular issue and arguing in favor of that position, while inquiry orientation involves seeking to understand multiple perspectives on an issue and finding common ground.

An advocacy orientation focuses on persuading others to accept a particular point of view and may involve the use of persuasive techniques, such as emotional appeals or logical arguments. This approach is often used in situations where there is a clear right or wrong answer and the goal is to convince others to accept the correct answer.

In contrast, an inquiry orientation involves asking questions and listening to others in order to better understand their perspectives and find solutions that can be agreed upon by all parties. This approach is often used in situations where there is no clear right or wrong answer and the goal is to find a solution that works for everyone.

Advocacy orientation and inquiry orientation are not mutually exclusive, and many people may use elements of both approaches in different situations. Which approach is most appropriate will depend on the specific situation and the goals of the conversation.