How Inquiry vs. Advocacy can Mitigate Resistance

We recently had a ceiling repaired in one of our condo bathrooms. The cause of the damage was poorly sealed plumbing in the unit above ours. A contractor was selected to do the work. Working with them to schedule the repairs was easy. Working with the gentleman who did the work provides a case study in advocacy vs. inquiry and managing resistance. We will call him Sam.

Sam appeared at our door on time on the day we had scheduled the work. As he began the work, he explained that the damage was caused by poor ventilation in our bathroom, and the wrong vent grill. Sam was persistent about advocating his rationale for our issues despite my challenge to his rationale. I politely disagreed with his assessment – I was resistant. We agreed that he would talk with the building maintenance team to find out about proper ventilation.

Sam returned the next day to complete the job. I asked him what he had learned from our maintenance team and it was clear that he had not spoken with them at all. Instead he continued to advocate for his position that the ventilation was wrong, and I should take action to correct it. Later that day I did in fact speak with our maintenance supervisor who assured me that I was right about the damage, the leak and the ventilation.

Sam’s handling of this issue illustrates two important transformational leadership behaviors – and how not to demonstrate them.

The first is advocacy vs. inquiry. If you are trying to change someone’s perception of a situation, you will not gain any ground by continuing to advocate your position, and not asking questions about why people think the way they do. Not once in our exchange did Sam ask me how I came to believe why the situation had occurred, my previous experience with construction (I built a house 20 years ago), or my tenure with the bathroom. Had he asked questions to better understand my position, he would have built some credibility.

The other is handling resistance. This goes hand in hand with advocacy vs. inquiry. I clearly rejected Sam’s diagnosis of the problem and he knew it. We agreed to a course of action. He failed to follow through with it. Had he explored why I rejected his diagnosis (inquiry), followed through with his commitment to find out more information, and demonstrate some willingness to adjust his course of action, we might have had a more positive outcome. We would at least be aligned. We weren’t. He completed the project and left reinforcing the idea that the ventilation was to blame. I simply said thank you and closed the door.

Don’t be like Sam. Take time to understand others’ points of view when you are leading a transformation. Then take action to address concerns and follow through with those who express concern. You’ll build credibility, improve your leadership, and have a far greater chance of success.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


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Proof that Inquiry is a more effective Influencer than is Advocacy

Statistics Confirm: Talk Less and Listen More for Success

“You have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly,” “Talk less, listen more.” These are two quotes we often hear. Some of us might remember when we were children our mother’s drumming this into our young heads. I know mine did.

Last year, did a study of 25,537 sales transactions between a seller and a buyer. A summary of their findings follows:

  1. Across all 25,537 conversations, sellers spoke 70% of the time and buyers about 30% of the time.
  2. Across only those that resulted in a sale, the seller spoke 43% of the time and the buyer spoke 57% of the time.

Now, you might say to me, “Steve, this data is great, but selling a product or service is much different than leading a transformation.” I disagree. The fundamental underlying similarity is that both require influence. In the sales transaction, the seller is influencing the buyer to buy. In transformations, the leader is influencing the employee to adopt the transformation.

Influence is the key to success in both scenarios. Inquiry goes much further than advocacy whether you are selling a product, service or a transformation.

The message? Talk less. Listen more. Apparently about twice as much as you are currently (57% vs. 30%).

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,