Using Humble Inquiry in the OD Process Practitioner Role


Becoming an OD Process Consultant requires a high level of skill and knowledge to effectively assist clients.

A skilled OD Process Professional must possess the ability to build strong relationships, engage with clients to gain their trust, show empathy towards their concerns, be a trusted advisor, and be flexible enough to adapt to their specific needs. To be successful, the OD Process Professional must be able to navigate complexity, interdependence, diversity, and instability. If they try to use a consulting approach that goes against the client’s needs or style, it will limit their effectiveness. The OD Process Professional should provide clients with opportunities for self-discovery and encourage continuous learning.

To understand how the role of the OD Process Professional is evolving, it is important to consider different approaches.

One approach is the Humble Inquiry approach, which starts with mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being fully aware of the present moment and having self-awareness of one’s own thoughts and feelings. By adopting a Humble Inquiry approach, you can set aside your assumptions, suspend judgment, and determine the best way to interact with the client and provide assistance. Being present allows you to better understand the client’s emotions and thoughts. Mindfulness conveys a readiness to be helpful, curious, have a caring attitude, and a willingness to learn more about the client’s perspective.

There are various techniques to demonstrate mindfulness. One technique is to practice quieting the mind by taking deep breaths and avoiding any intrusive thoughts. Another technique is meditation, where you focus on a sound or word to reach a calm state. Once your mind is clear and free from distractions, you can fully focus on listening to and understanding the client.

In the Humble Inquiry approach, building the relationship is crucial for gaining trust and commitment from the client. To establish a deep level of connection, it is important to understand yourself and your approach to others. Developing effective relationships requires self-assessment of your communication and influence styles, recognizing your own perceptions and biases, and understanding how they impact your behavior. Being aware of your personal style and preferences, as well as those of others, will enhance your ability to communicate effectively.

As an effective communicator, the OD Process Professional takes full responsibility for interpreting the meaning behind the client’s message. The initial contact with the client should be focused on building an open and trusting relationship, understanding their concerns, and finding ways to help them. Building relationships can be achieved by asking questions about their role, responsibilities, background, achievements, challenges, interests, and family. By showing genuine interest in them, you can establish trust. Trust is built through active listening, empathy, attempting to understand their thoughts and feelings, offering assistance, demonstrating integrity, respecting confidentiality, and gaining agreement. All of these steps contribute to establishing trust.

Another critical technique is asking open-ended questions that encourage the client to delve deeper into their problems or challenges. The OD Process Professional builds the relationship by asking questions that help to understand the client’s expectations. Questions like “Why are we here?” “What do you want to focus on?” “What do you hope to gain from our meeting?” “Why is this a priority?” “What happens if you do nothing?” and “What do you need from me?” help to define expectations and provide insights into what the client expects from the process. Understanding their expectations enables the OD Process Professional to focus on finding the right solutions.

Once the OD Process Professional understands the client’s expectations, it is important to explore their perceptions of the problem. One technique is the Present, Past, Future Scenario. This involves asking the client questions about their current needs, what has happened in the past, and projecting into the future. By understanding the client’s perceptions and their vision for the future, the OD Process Professional can better identify the root cause of the problem and determine if there are any gaps or differences in perceptions within the organization.

Gaining agreement is another aspect of the Humble Inquiry approach. Asking the client if they are committed to working on the business challenge and if they agree to partner with you on the next steps is crucial. Once their agreement is obtained, it is important to discuss whether the challenge is aligned with the strategic goals, who owns the problem, and who else needs to be involved. Involving direct reports and others closely related to the challenge can provide additional feedback and insight. Collaborating with others in the organization helps to identify the source of the problem and determine the root cause.

By using the Humble Inquiry approach, the OD Process Professional can build trust, establish strong relationships, understand the client’s needs and perceptions, and gain agreement to move forward.

To learn more about Humble Inquiry and how you can gain certification as an OD Process Practitioner, please visit our website.


Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of Organization Development (IOD), offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning.

Reference:  Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry:  The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling


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