Test-Driven Conversations

Posted by on Sep 29, 2011 in Coaching, Conference | 3 Comments

At the AgileCoachCamp US, Derek W. Wade ran a session on the advocacy/inquiry interaction pattern, titled “WTF” (Where’s that from).

The basic idea is simple: when we listen to a statement of another person, we assume a certain context, in which we would have made such a statement.

Assumed Motivation

Assumed Motivation—drawn by Derek

Derek had a nice example: Joe comes home and finds that Jim has thrown the plates on the kitchen floor. They are broken, and he shouts, “why did you break those plates, are you crazy?” The situation escalates…

Advocacy/Inquiry is an interaction pattern you can use in such situations. It’s like a TDD cycle: make an observation (neutral), state your assumption and ask the other person for their motivation. Repeat if necessary.

Derek Explains Interaction Pattern

Derek Explains Interaction Pattern

So, Joe now says (after visiting Dereks session):
I notice the plates fell on the floor,
I’m concerned that if I threw them on the floor I’d have been crazy,
Now I wonder why you did it?

This leads to a much less heated conversation. You keep your emotions to yourself, as in non-violent communication (of which this might even be a good example, now that I think about it). You don’t accuse. We learned in the exercises in Derek’s session how repeated use of this pattern can get down to the bottom of a problem, even if it’s really hard for the questioned person.

I had the chance to use it twice in real-life during the three days since I learned it, and I was impressed by the result. Parents should use this as a standard pattern to communicate…

Derek has published some slides where you can learn details and background:



  1. Derek W. Wade
    September 30, 2011

    Hi Olaf! So glad you liked the session and found it useful. I myself had an opportunity to balance advocacy with enquiry and defuse an escalating situation just the other day.

    One nitpick I have with the plates example you give above is the “…if I was doing that I’d have been crazy.”

    That’s an example of a judgmental statement couched in advocacy/enquiry language. The judgement there is “you are crazy” and the interaction is tending toward the implication that there is some fault on the part of Jim.

    I started to write more here but then realized I had made a blog post of my own: http://derekwwade.net/blog/2011/09/30/balancing-advocacy-with-inquiry-at-agile-coach-camp/

    Thanks so much for the write-up!

    • Olaf
      September 30, 2011

      Yes, I can see that, thanks for the nitpicking:-)
      How should I rephrase it?
      “if I had done that, I’d imagine I must have been quite upset by something?”

  2. David Koontz
    September 30, 2011

    Hi Olaf,

    I went to Derek’s Agile2011 session and learned that I have a long way to go to ballance my advocacy with my (growing) ability to move toward inquiry. It is quite a good skill when you see it used well. My good-looking wife happens to be very much an expert at this technique (maybe why we get along so well – well we did just mark 15 years – and counting). I’ve watched her coach others on this technique – yet it wasn’t until Derek put a name on it that it clicked for me.


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