Writing as Action Inquiry

By Edith Friesen for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Any time you write is a perfect time to practice Action Inquiry. The next time you engage in an email or online conversation with your colleagues, try staying present to yourself, to your colleagues, and to the whole. Of course, staying present to all three while you are writing takes practice, something like learning to ride a bicycle.

Staying present isn’t just about being mindful; it’s about inquiring in a particular way. My understanding of Action Inquiry draws from Bill Torbert’s book Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership.

Am I writing with integrity?

You can begin by staying present to yourself and asking whether you are writing with integrity. To do this, continually inquire into the gap between your intention and your performance, between what you want to say to your colleagues and how you are communicating that. The goal is to create alignment between what’s inside you and what shows up on your screen.

In my experience, writing often lags behind personal development. We tend to write in a way that echoes an earlier action logic (which is a concept similar to stage of consciousness). For example, we might write too forcefully or over-politely. Our writing might seem excessively goal-driven or extravagantly soft-shelled. And even if we usually write in an integrative way, say from a Strategist action logic, which is another name for Teal consciousness, we might regress when we are triggered—me included.

Whenever you notice a gap between your intention and performance, make the appropriate adjustment. You can begin by kissing the gap with awareness. You might also need to revise what you have written. Perhaps you even need to upgrade your writing skills so they jibe with your preferred action logic. Check out my previous columns in this magazine to get a sense of how you might do that.

Does my writing set the stage for mutuality?

Staying present to your audience means asking whether you are generating critical and constructive mutuality. If you are operating from a Strategist or Teal perspective, you will tend to write in a way that integrates disparate perspectives, invites mutuality, and makes space for constructive and creative action toward a shared purpose.

To facilitate shared purpose for action, Bill Torbert suggests cultivating the four parts of speech—framing, advocating, illustrating, and inquiring—in a disciplined way.

It is helpful to frame things explicitly. Ask yourself this: have I put my perspective as well as my understanding of my colleagues’ perspectives on the table? Often, I find that what I thought were shared assumptions are nothing more than my own convictions and projections. This is where many communication mishaps and misunderstandings begin, especially in online conversations.

It is also wise to be explicit yet abstract when you advocate. Ask yourself: have I stated an option, perception, strategy, or feeling clearly? Sometimes it’s difficult to state our feelings because it feels too vulnerable. Yet, noticing and naming them makes our advocacy more powerful and invites our colleagues to become vulnerable in turn.

Illustrating means making the abstract concrete. Ask yourself: have I brought my story alive with sensory details, various implications, and potential outcomes? Have I allowed my colleagues to experience the story in a way that will motivate them?

Inquiry is also about listening. Ask yourself: have I invited my colleagues to respond and welcomed all perspectives into the mix? Am I ready to listen and change? If your hands are stiff-knuckled from hanging onto an agenda that is close to your heart, it’s best to relax your grip before you even send your post or e-mail.

These are a lot of questions to ask while you are writing. So you may want to ask them after you write and before you press enter or send. The more often you ask them, as a matter of course, the sooner Action Inquiry becomes an ally and an advantageous habit.

Does my writing generate sustainability?

One of the hallmarks of Teal consciousness or a Strategist action logic is staying present to the whole, whether that whole is your organization, your community, society, the globe, or all of life. You might ask yourself: what is the potential impact of my writing beyond myself? In the case of an online conversation with colleagues, your vision and strategizing might contribute to greater organizational effectiveness. It could also contribute to greater social justice or harmony with the natural environment.


From doing to being

Of course, there is a lot more to Action Inquiry than what I’ve offered here. You can practice it with any form of communication, whether writing or speaking. If you practice Action Inquiry enough, it becomes more than something what you do. It becomes second-nature, a way of being in the world, a way of embodying Teal consciousness. No big deal.

I’d love to hear about your action inquiry practice. We all would.

As a lifelong writer, Edith has worked in diverse organizations and coached writers. She enjoys helping people write in Teal-inspired ways that touch the body, heart, soul, and mind. Send email to arcadiawilds@gmail.com.





Featured Image Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash  

Integrity Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Mutuality Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Sustainability Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash