“Talking by Asking” – Insight on rallying people and ideas

Walt Vernon, PE, LEED AP, EDAC, FASHE

Principal, Chief Executive Officer
7/13/15

Lately, Ive been bumping more and more into the idea of “talking by asking”.

I am a big podcast listener. The other day, I listened to an Aspen Institute “Ideas to Go” podcast by Dana Boyd, of Microsoft Research. Ms. Boyd wrote a book recently about how today’s teen-agers are using technology (by the way, I highly recommend both the podcast and the book).

In a brief aside, Ms. Boyd talked about how parents can deal with their kids, as a method of building community and relationships, and really, easing parental anxiety over kids’ activities. She mentioned the difference between parenting styles in the US and in the Inuit people. In the US, we like to tell our kids what they should do or think or feel. The Inuit people, by contrast, when helping kids deal with a situation, ask them questions. “Do you want to do X because of what that person did? What would happen if you did that?” The Inuit parents try to help their kids think through their situation and teach them to manage their way in the world, rather than giving them guideposts they need to follow. They teach by asking.

Benjamin Franklin, in his Autobiography, talks about learning this same lesson. He described his experience of stating a forceful opinion—that force, in an almost Newtonian way, created an equal and opposite reaction. Instead, he learned, that when he asked people questions, he could usually help people come to the conclusion he intended, but with the feeling that it was their own idea, not the idea he had imposed on them. He talked by asking.

And, most recently, in working with a rather brilliant client, Ive been exposed to the methods of ‘Appreciative Inquiry‘. AI, very simply, doesn’t focus on identifying all the reasons you can’t do something; it does not identify barriers to dismantle; rather, it focuses on the question, “how could we?” And in a very powerful way, it brings people together and mobilizes their energy towards positive, engaging solutions. I have watched an AI master use questions to bring people together over historically intractable chasms.

So, let me ask you–What do you think about this idea? Is it worth trying? Or if you have tried it (or use it), care to share your experience(s)?


Aaron Schiess, PE

Associate, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Allan Hendrikse, PE, LEED AP BD+C

Senior Associate, Electrical Engineer

Anareli Catalan

Technology BIM Specialist

Andy Neathery

Technology BIM Specialist

Angelica Chow

Electrical Designer

Arturo S Salud

Associate, Senior Electrical Designer

Austin Barolin, PE, CEM, LEED AP O&M

Associate, Senior Energy Analyst

Bethany Beers, CCP, LEED AP BD+C

Energy & Commissioning Consultant

Bill Caron, PE, DBIA

Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Bill Hinton, CNMT

Associate Principal, Senior Project Manager

Brennan Schumacher, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Lighting Design Lead

Brian Hageman, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Plumbing Discipline Lead

Brian Hans, PE, LEED AP

Associate Principal, Senior Mechanical Engineer

Brian J. Lottis, LEED AP BD+C

Associate, Senior Mechanical Designer

Brianne Copes, PE, LEED AP

Senior Associate, Mechanical Engineer

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