Author: Communications team member, Kym Dakin
When was the last time you felt truly curious about something? What did you do about it? Did you:
- Ask that question, research for factoids right then and there?
- Record it on your smartphone, or write it out intending to get back to it? (And did you?)
- Or did you tuck it away in the overstuffed library of your brain for later? (Did “later” ever come?)
I have discovered, for myself at any rate, that something I am curious about (different from “distracted by”) often opens doors to creating a meaningful day. But for so many of us, it’s hard to recall the last time we could answer the questions that started this post.
What happened to our ability to follow something where curiosity takes us? Where did our natural inquisitiveness go? Some would say Adulthood happened.
“Curiosity is for Kids – Right?”
I am still in disbelief that I actually heard this said in a workshop a few years ago. My mouth may have dropped open, but no one else around me appeared to be stunned. I asked him – I’ll call him Adam – to elaborate on that statement, and he named some pretty valid reasons for this belief:
“Kids are the ones who have time to dig into what intrigues them.” It’s ok, in fact it’s expected that kids are not “experts” and don’t know a whole lot. But this is harder to acknowledge as an adult. Nevertheless, genuine curiosity, when expressed in adult interactions, is critical in building strong connections, whether personal or professional.
“I’m so busy trying to build my business, and drill down into those requirements, that anything else just feels like distraction.” It’s understandable that a focused, driven business person would feel this way. But at some point, people will need to connect with what you’re selling or your business will fail. Conveying genuine curiosity is essential to building trust. Trust is at the foundation of a successful client interaction. When I brought that idea into the room, Adam smiled. “Right”, he said. “Now you’ve given me a reason to get curious!”
No Time to Be Curious
We often act as though creating true relationship and exhibiting genuine curiosity takes too much time. But when it comes to building meaning into our days, that time is well spent.
Expressing curiosity requires vulnerability, especially in professional settings – you have to call attention to yourself as you ask a question. Not everyone is comfortable with questions. And what about those times when you have to ask what might feel like a “stupid” question? You can just imagine the smirks from your highly competitive colleagues sitting around the table. Not-happening-no-way! But as Brene’ Brown says “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability are the real badasses.”
ATD Capability Model
I got “curious” about what the ATD Capability Model might say regarding curiosity, and though it’s not mentioned per se, I believe it is implied, especially when it comes to employee engagement under “Impacting Organizational Capability”. These four strategies in particular resonate with authentic curiosity.
- Knowledge of how employee engagement and retention influence organizational outcomes.
- Skill in assessing and evaluating employee engagement.
- Knowledge of strategies and techniques for building, supporting, and/or promoting an organizational culture that values talent and learning as drivers of competitive advantage.
- Skill in designing and implementing employee engagement strategy.
To design and implement employee engagement, authentic curiosity is key. How else can we build effective programs and strategies unless we take the time to ask questions that reveal the underlying truth of one’s experience, needs and motivations?
Positive Intelligence (PQ) Model
One of the aspects of the PQ model I have come to truly appreciate is the Sage Qualities. These are skills that are essential to living an engaged, productive and meaningful life. In my experience, the qualities progress from Yin to Yang in this lineup:
- Empathy: Having and demonstrating empathy for oneself and others.
- Explore: Expressing genuine curiosity about the underlying story, issue, facts and influences that impact our experience.
- Innovate: Once we discover, through empathic curiosity, the information we need, we can then begin to create and develop new possibilities to address issues.
- Navigate: Here is where we build perspective: what are our priorities? What strategies do we need to make sure we address what’s truly important? What, if anything, are we creating that will be effective and meaningful over time?
- Action: Once the first four qualities have been considered and acted upon, only then can effective action be taken.
Of course, the “Explore” quality is all about curiosity, and as it follows “Empathy”, they often go hand in hand when truly engaging with clients and employees grappling with a whole range of issues. But again, we may have to deal with our reluctance to take the time to sit down and ask probing questions. And we may have to overcome our fear of doing so.
Curiosity vs. Fear
Genuine curiosity is the opposite of fear. You hear that love is the opposite – but in actual experience, love is too big a stretch. All kinds of people can claim they “love” the disabled or Muslims or old hippies, but in that context, the L word is almost meaningless. Genuine curiosity on the other hand, feels much more like love’s qualities in action. Curiosity starts from a place of mutual regard; This person’s ideas, values, responses, are worth eliciting. And it begins with trust; This person will not harm me simply for asking about their experience.
Googling someone, is not the same as actually looking them in the eye and asking “How are you – really?” “How do you experience what’s happening on our team?” “How do you feel about what she just said?” And truly listening for the answer.
Our resistance to doing this because it takes too much time away from what we have labelled our priorities – is one of the obstacles to talking through differences or simply encountering each other in a mutually respectful way. Enough of this resistance compounds into a culture and we end up with family fracture, silo’d workplaces, and the election season circus that we experience every four years…. so many of us shocked and awed at all the rage. That degree of anger and blame can only happen when we lose the ability as a country to be curious about the “Other”, whatever that term may mean for us.
Think about the last time someone showed genuine curiosity about you or something you were involved in. How did it make you feel to have someone truly slow down enough to ask you a question that demanded more than just a glib, off-the-cuff answer? Chances are, your connection with that person strengthened simply because they expressed genuine curiosity and offered you a question that truly made you think.
Curiosity is defined as: 1. “the desire to learn or know more about something or someone”, or 2. “something that is interesting because it is unusual.” The Curiosity Quotient is a term coined by Thomas Friedman and broken down into the Curiosity Values. You can hunt and peck around, as I did, for an actual “Curiosity Quiz”…. It was revealing to see how so many of our daily habits and rituals are determined by how much curiosity we possess.
Follow that Question
Here’s a very brief and easy exercise as a way to make room for more curiosity in your day.
Sometime during the day, get outside and take a 10 – 20 minute walk. Bring a notebook with you. As you observe your environment, begin to identify between 3 and 5 objects, businesses, fellow humans, natural phenomena, etc. that intrigue you even just a little bit. Write down a single question about these “curiosities”. When you get back home, or back to the office, identify one question and allow yourself the tiny slice of time it requires to google it. After a few days of allowing yourself time to follow small curiosities, assess whether you’ve discovered something that surprised you, or gotten an idea out of nowhere for fixing that pesky problem, or just maybe your feeling a just a bit better about your life in general. If so, congratulations! You’ve created more meaning for yourself.