Using Humble Inquiry in the OD Process Practitioner Role


Using Humble Inquiry in the OD Process Practitioner Role

By Dr. Nancy Zentis

The process of becoming an OD Process Consultant requires a great degree of skills and knowledge to help clients.

The skilled OD Process Professional must able to build strong relationships, engage with the client to gain trust, have empathy toward what the client is sharing, willingness to be their trusted advisor, and flexible to adapt to client needs.  To be effective, the OD Process Professional must learn to deal with complexity, interdependence, diversity, and instability.  If the OD Process Professional attempts to use a particular consulting approach that is counterintuitive to the client’s need or style, it limits their effectiveness.  The OD Process Professional must provide clients with opportunities for self-discovery and encourage learning.

To understand how the OD Process Professional role is evolving, we must look at several approaches.

Humble Inquiry Approach

The Humble Inquiry approach begins with mindfulness.  Mindful is a state of being – having self-awareness of your current state of being and focus on the present.  Using a Humble Inquiry approach, you will set aside your own assumptions, suspending judgments, and attempt to determine how to best interact with the client to help them.  Being in the present helps you to become more aware of what the client is feeling and thinking.  Mindfulness conveys a readiness to be helpful, be curious, have a caring attitude, and willingness to learn more about what is on the client’s mind.

There are several techniques to demonstrate mindfulness.  One is a quieting technique – take a deep breath, inhale deeply and exhale several times.  Try to avoid allowing any thoughts to pop into your mind.  Notice how it feels!  Does it have a calming effect?  If thoughts start to enter into your mind, take another breath, and push the thoughts out of your mind.  You can also use a meditation technique – focus on a sound or word, and repeat it until you get to a calm state.  Once your mind is empty of noise and self talk, you are ready to focus on hearing what the client is saying and feeling.

In Humble Inquiry, building the relationship is critical to gaining trust and commitment with a client.  In order to get to the deep level of a relationship, you must understand yourself and your approach to others.  Learning to create effective relationships requires an in-depth self-assessment of your own communication and influence styles, recognizing your personal perceptions and biases and how they influence your behavior and actions.  Learning your own personal style and preferences, and your awareness of others personal styles and preferences, impacts your ability to communicate effectively.

To be an effective communicator, the OD Process Professional takes 100% responsibility for interpreting the meaning in the message sent by the client.  Your first contact with the client is with the intention of building an open and trusting relationship to find out what is on their mind and discover how you can help them.  One technique in building relationships is to get to know them.  Ask questions about their role, areas of responsibility, career background, their accomplishments, challenges, personal interests, family, etc.  By focusing the questions about them, you are building a relationship and starting to build trust.  When you find common ground with another person, a relationship begins.  Your actions and behavior during the conversation will determine if you’ve gained their trust.  Listening, showing empathy, attempting to understand what they are thinking and feeling, offering to help, showing integrity, maintaining respect and confidentiality, and gaining agreement are steps that lead to establishing trust.

Another critical technique is the ability to ask open-ended questions that encourage the client to gain a deeper meaning of his or her problems or challenges.  The OD Process Professional builds the relationship by asking questions to understand the client’s expectations – 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, what do you need from me?  Defining expectations helps you to understand what the client expects from you.  Knowing their expectations helps you to focus on how to help the client find the right solutions.

Once the OD Process Professional understands the client’s expectations, we start to explore their perceptions of the problem.  Several techniques can be used here, for example, Present, Past, Future Scenario.  First, ask the client questions about their need based on what is happening now.  “What is causing or driving the need to change, what impact is it making, who’s involved, who’s responsible, how long has it been happening, when does it need to change?”  Next ask questions to uncover what has happened in the past.  Tell me about the past – “Were things better or worse, what lead up to the present need, why did it change, how is it impacting the present?”  Finally, draw from the present and the past and project into the future – “What needs to change and why, what would success look like, where would you like to be in the future?”  Now that you have a better understanding of the problem, and what the client believes the future would look like if he or she could solve the problem, we need to understand if their perceptions of the problem are shared with others in the organization or if there are any gaps or differences in perceptions of the problem.  The next line of questions helps to gain the client’s agreement to move forward to identify the root cause of the problem before deciding on a solution.

Gaining agreement is another Humble Inquiry approach.   Ask the client if they are committed to work on this business challenge and whether they agree to partner with you on the next steps.  Once you’ve gained their agreement, ask whether this challenge is tied to the strategic goals, who owns this problem, and who else needs to be involved.  Ask if their direct reports might be helpful in providing feedback and insight to this challenge.  Ask if they would like to help you create a set of questions to collect feedback from direct reports and others closely related to the challenge.  Ask if this would be beneficial to finding the source of the problem and the root cause.

Using a Humble Inquiry approach helps the OD Process Professional to gain the client’s trust, build relationships, determine their needs and perceptions of the problem, as well as gain agreement to take the next step toward action by involving others in the organization to collaborate and share their feedback.  The OD Process Professional must learn to deal with complexity, interdependence, diversity, and instability in order to be effective.

About the author:

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development Skills for ongoing learning.  As a consultant in the field of OD for many years, she has developed Talent Management and Leadership Development Strategies for many leading organizations.  She can be reached at  For more information about our certification programs and professional development workshops, visit our website


IOD offers online Organization Development Certification Programs to help participants gain skills to advance in their career in the field of OD.  If you are new to OD, you will benefit from the OD Process Professional Certification Program (ODPC). 

IOD’s OD Certification Programs are offered online over 8 months, meeting 3 hours per month.  Each session is delivered live with an experienced OD Facilitator.  Our expert faculty provide interactive discussions, examples, tools, guidelines, and resources to enrich your learning experience.


This certification program provided me with the resources and tools I needed to practice OD.  The structure and process helped me to be more confident and focus on helping the client achieve their goals.

The practical experience I learned during this program gave me the confidence to support organization change management initiatives.  I used the skills to transfer my knowledge immediately after each session.


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