Questioning the Status Quo With Intention

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By: Allison Brill

Status quo is Latin for “existing state.” The current state of things can be hard to notice or define because it’s often the culture of a workplace or other space. You may have heard or been told, “That’s just how things are,” or “That’s the way things are done around here.” Just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s the best way, or even a good way, of doing things. In fact, institutionalizing something and making it status quo is one way that things stay the same, and how people in power stay in power. Being part of the status quo can even blind us from the truth.

[Related: How to Create a Free Flow of Information Between Leaders and Employees]

By questioning and exploring processes, systems, and ideas, we can take a deeper dive into their history and dynamics at play. By digging deeper, we may uncover truths, and the process of realizing these truths may lead us to another path and open up whole new worlds we never imagined were possible before. Innovation happens by being open to all kinds of possibilities — ideas that we may not even imagine are possible in the current state of a project, or the climate of an organization.

Asking questions shows that you’re a leader — you’re curious, interested, and invested in a project or idea, and willing to ask the questions that will get your team and organization where they need to go. It’s crucial to ask intentional and strategic questions that allow for open-ended discussion, such as:

  • “What are the pros and cons to this method/approach/theory?”
  • “How did this method/approach/theory come to be used here?”
  • “What are the potential benefits and negative consequences?”
  • “Who will be impacted by this decision?”
  • “Who is benefiting from this decision?
  • “What if we looked at this another way?”

It’s important to ask these questions in a curious and positive way, rather than defensive or aggressive, as people in power do not usually like to be questioned. But not questioning and challenging those in power is how the status quo remains. Challenging with love and intention, rather than fear, is more likely to elicit a positive response, or at least an openness to explore other viewpoints and ideas. Challenging the status quo is an opportunity to begin conversations and explore new ideas, opening the door to transforming the way programs and services are delivered, how business is done, and the culture of an organization.

[Related: Turning Confrontation Into Conversation]

By its very nature, questioning people and institutions in positions of power is risky, and a risk you need to weigh if you are able to take. Consider what’s at stake, as well as your position, privileges, and allies, to determine if taking this kind of risk makes sense for you. Be prepared for push-back and resistance. This is part of the process. Most people don’t like change and don’t like to be challenged. Do your research and be prepared. And remember that with change comes progress. There is often more to be learned from questions than (searching for) answers. What’s at stake for you to remain neutral or silent?

Allison Brill is a Public Health & Inclusion Specialist. As a public health professional, she is a champion of health equity, diversity and inclusion, and social justice.

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