37 Marvelous Edgar Schein Quotes

Edgar Schein is a former professor of the MIT Sloan School of Management and is a notable mark in organizational development and culture. With multiple publications under his belt, here is a look at some of the most notable Edgar Schein quotes to remember.

“A key characteristic of the engineering culture is that the individual engineer’s commitment is to technical challenge rather than to a given company.”

“All groups and organizations need to know how they are doing against their goals and periodically need to check to determine whether they are performing in line with their mission.”

“As they build higher levels of trust through joint learning, they become more open in their communication, which, in turn, enables them to deal with the inevitable surprises that arise in complex interdependent situations.”

“But especially if you are dependent on others—if you are the boss or senior person trying to increase the likelihood that your subordinates will help you and be open with you—then Humble Inquiry will not only be desirable but essential.”

“Check out your own emotions and intentions before offering, giving, or receiving help.”

“Checklists and other formal processes of coordination are not enough because they cannot deal with unanticipated situations. Through Humble Inquiry teams can build the initial relationships that enable them to learn together.”

“Consensus must be achieved on what to measure, how to measure it, and what to do when corrections are needed.”

“Doctors engage patients in one-way conversations in which they ask only enough questions to make a diagnosis and sometimes make misdiagnoses because they don’t ask enough questions before they begin to tell patients what they should do.”

“Everything You Say or Do Is an Intervention that Determines the Future of the Relationship”

“Help in the broadest sense is, in fact, one of the most important currencies that flow between members of society because help is one of the main ways of expressing love and other caring emotions that humans express.”

“How does one produce a climate in which people will speak up, bring up information that is safety related, and even correct superiors or those of higher status when they are about to make a mistake?”

“Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

“If a client insists on getting a recommendation from you, always give him at least two alternatives so that he still has to make choice.”

“In building the helping relationship, encouragement—via positive reinforcement—certainly seems appropriate. But if it is not sensitively handled, such encouragement can quickly become patronizing and insulting.”

“In my personal life, especially as I am aging, I find that the biggest mistakes I make and the biggest risks I run all result form mindless hurrying.”

“Most of my important lessons about life have come from recognizing how others from a different culture view things.”

“Our wants and needs distort to an unknown degree what we perceive. We block out a great deal of information that is potentially available if it does not fit our needs, expectations, preconceptions, and prejudgments.”

“Questions are taken for granted rather than given a starring role in the human drama. Yet all my teaching and consulting experience has taught me that what builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward is asking the right questions.”

“Remember that the person requesting your help may feel uncomfortable, so make sure to ask what the client really wants and how you can best help.”

“Telling puts the other person down. It implies that the other person does not already know what I am telling and that the other person ought to know it.”

“The answer runs counter to some important aspects of U.S. culture— we must become better at asking and do less telling in a culture that overvalues telling. It has always bothered me how even ordinary conversations tend to be defined by what we tell rather than by
what we ask.”

“The point is that no matter what you do or don’t do, you are sending signals; you are intervening in the situation and therefore need to be mindful of that reality. Unless you are invisible you cannot help but communicate, so your choice of communication should be based on what kind of intervention you intend.”

“The world is becoming more technologically complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse, which makes the building of relationships more and more necessary to get things accomplished and, at the same time, more difficult.”

“There is a joke that says it all. A plant is being managed by one man and one dog. It is the job of the man to feed the dog, and it is the job of the dog to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

“There is no intrinsic loyalty to an employer as such. An employer is good only for providing the sandbox in which to play. If there is no challenge or if resources fail to be provided, the engineer will seek employment elsewhere.”

“Though helping is a common social process, it is not the only social process. Our relationships with others have many other functions. In order to offer, give, and receive help effectively, we also need the ability to shift from whatever else we were doing and adopt a readiness to help or be helped.”

“Trust in the context of a conversation is believing that the other person will acknowledge me, not take advantage of me, not embarrass or humiliate me, tell me the truth, and, in the broader context, not cheat me, work on my behalf, and support the goals we have agreed to.”

“Ultimately the purpose of Humble Inquiry is to build relationships that lead to trust which, in turn, leads to better communication and collaboration.”

“We also live in a structured society in which building relationships is not as important as task accomplishment, in which it is appropriate and expected that the subordinate does more asking than telling, while the boss does more telling that asking.”

“We do not like or trust groups. We believe that committees and meetings are a waste of time and that group decisions diffuse accountability.”

“We do not think and talk about what we see; we see what we are able to think and talk about.”

“We must become better at asking and do less telling in a culture that overvalues telling.”

“We value task accomplishment over relationship building and either are not aware of this cultural bias or, worse, don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with it.”

“What we choose to ask, when we ask, what our underlying attitude is as we ask—all are key to relationship building, to communication, and to task performance.”

“When our true intentions are something other than providing help, such as getting a job done or beating someone in a game, we are most prone to falling into the traps described throughout this book.”

“When we don’t get acknowledgment or feel that we are giving more than we are getting out of conversations or feel talked down to, we become anxious, disrespected, and humiliated.”

“When you are giving feedback, try to be descriptive and minimize judgment.”

Edgar Schein appears at this Google talk discussing humble leadership. As an author and organizational culture expert, Schein is involved in multiple projects.

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