President's Column: Appreciating Inquiry

Dec 03, 2018

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Remember your first day on the unit? How long did it take you to figure out whom to go to with questions?

My first job in nursing was at a large university hospital on a 40-plus-bed telemetry unit. Although it was over 35 years ago, I still remember Margo. It only took me about three shifts, and I knew that I could count on Margo for the answer. She had clinical expertise combined with institutional knowledge and situational common sense. She was an expert. I hoped to emulate Margo as I grew in my career.

I have always admired and respected my colleagues with THE answers … the experts.

It is natural to look up to those who have answers and solutions to our challenges. It is important to have experts in the field. But all too often having the answers can lead people to believe that questioning is the opposite, something bad. That someone who asks questions lacks ability or is perceived as weak or challenging tradition. Yet the simple definition of a question — “a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information” — does not indicate inability, weakness or disrespect.

Questions have benefits.
The benefits of asking questions are understood by educators and teachers. They understand that questions express interest, keep people engaged, improve understanding of strengths and gaps, enhance recall and build a foundation for new knowledge.

Questions lead to innovation.
Innovation is born from questions. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt states, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” He believes that if his co-workers keep asking questions, they can keep finding better answers for their organization.

Questions have power.
They are not neutral.

The work in the leadership process known as appreciative inquiry helps us understand the power in how we ask questions. Appreciative inquiry teaches us that how we ask the question formulates whether the answer will produce a positive or a negative result. Systems develop in the direction the question is asked. Think about the following scenarios and how to ask questions to give your voice strength.

When we advocate for our patients and safe care, our question may be: “Will this harm the patient?”

Let’s alter the question to give our voice strength for positive change: “What is the optimal outcome we are seeking? Will this intervention/treatment help us achieve that outcome?”

So when there are changes in our responsibilities or processes, the question we want to ask might be: “You want us to do what?” But our inquiry voice for positive change may be: “Is this the best solution that also aligns with our mission and values?”

The voice of experts has strength. But equally as powerful and impactful is using our voice to question. What’s a question you’ve been dying to ask? Let me know at