Humor me while I do some self-coaching here.
I am self-aware enough to know that I place a high value on being productive and helpful. These two tendencies often serve others well. But… when I don’t keep an eye on them, I can impatiently draw conclusions, fix problems, advise others, and move into action. In short, my bias for progress can shut down my curiosity and squeeze out valuable space for the curiosity and ideas of others. I’ve learned how to stay open and curious in my coaching and facilitation work, where neutral exploration and learning are fundamental. This column is about sustaining that stance in other situations.
Specifically, I’ve been involved in strategic planning efforts with four very different nonprofits recently – advising, collaborating, consulting, and jointly crafting plans with diverse teams. Whether the organization’s mission is performing arts, community transformation, educational equity or international public health, the payoff for staying curious (the “ROC” or Return on Curiosity) has been tremendous! And I want to be sure to remember that.
Across these projects, I’ve worked to infuse my contributions with “extra” curiosity, despite my usual bias toward action. I know I can do even better, but I am intentionally asking more open questions that tap into the wisdom of more stakeholders. Then, I listen. And then the magic happens… Not only are the outputs high quality and enduring, but the group efforts have been more enjoyable and inclusive. I believe this extra dose of curiosity is partially responsible.
Here are a few “reminders to self” so that I sustain a high number of questions in my daily conversational diet. I hope they are useful to you, as well:
- Agenda-free questions are a healthy antidote to blind spots and rigid or rushed thinking.
- One well-placed, simple question, followed by silence, can be an empowering invitation to others to lead and teach, contributing to a more inclusive work environment.
- People gravitate to curious people, because they are not locked into their own preconceived perspectives and stay calm when confronted with differing views.
- Asking clarifying questions lessens self-induced stress, since learning is more fun than worrying.
There are so many benefits of authentic curiosity. What others have you experienced?