If your objective is to be right, be certain. If your objective is to learn, be curious.
From over a decade of coaching and developing leaders, it occurs to me that most of us could dramatically improve our leadership effectiveness by being a little less certain and a little more curious. Great leaders know how to cultivate curiosity.
Three Ways to Cultivate Curiosity
1. When someone says something you perceive to be rude
Instead of accusing someone of evil intentions, or paying them back with sarcasm, or walking away with hurt feelings, get curious. A simple question, “What was your intention of saying that,” with a good ten second pause works wonders to increase awareness, open dialogue, clean up the mess, or stop the unwanted behavior.
2. When you want to criticize or disagree
Rather than interrupting with “I don’t agree” or “That’s not a good idea,” instead ask a question. “What are the possible risks?” or “Have you thought about any disadvantages?” Curiosity is a great conflict resolution tool. Certainty that you are right only invites argument and resistance, whereas curiosity invites exploration.
3 When you want to increase team engagement
It’s easy to get excited and immediately start sharing ideas with your team. Certainty tells and curiosity asks. Curiosity allows you to introduce new ideas by asking others about their ideas first. You can “test the water,” listen for resistance, or even find holes in your idea before you roll it out. Curiosity can help you tweak a good idea into a great one, and get people excited because you asked for their input.
Ready to get more curious?
Certainty is about “telling” and curiosity is about asking. Here are some questions and statements you can practice asking to increase your curiosity quotient:
• What do you want?
• What do you mean?
• Why would you say that?
• How do you know?
• What evidence do you have?
• Tell me more…
• What did you learn?
• What would you do over if you could?
• What is your next step?
• What outcome do you want?
• What is your highest intention?
• What is possible?
Conclusion: Curiosity is more than a mindset. Curiosity is a tool that can be cultivated to help you engage your team, address performance problems, gain understanding, and resolve conflict. As a leader you must make a commitment to cultivate curiosity. Make a habit of being more curious and less certain and let me know your results!
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker, and the author of two books: “No-Drama Leadership: How Enlightened Leaders Transform Culture in the Workplace” (Bibliomotion 2015) and “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011). Chism’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.