The Courage to be Curious

Originally seen in Careers in Government 1/9/16.


Leaders being asked to do more with less resources sometimes default to a “just get it done” attitude when tackling daily tasks. As a leadership tool, the willingness to evoke curiosity in these times often falls to the sidelines in one-on-one dialogues and team meetings.

The courage to be curious implies a willingness to step away from the head-down-plow-through mentality we sometimes default to, and, instead, pause to reflect on what has not been asked about the issue that could bring greater clarity or benefit. What open-ended question(s) could be asked that would result in innovative, creative, and possibility thinking before springing into action?

When evoking a curiosity-based mindset, the results are powerful, therefore leading to positive engagement and satisfaction in your workplace. As a leader, having the confidence to ask genuine questions of your team (that may slow down the action process), requires courage. However, in doing so, the process and end game improve.  When leading with curiosity, you are ensuring that everyone is with you and your vision. When we assume “everyone gets what I am saying,” before springing into action, it can be very costly. Instead, take a moment to be curious, and ask for confirmation from your team. As a team member, having the courage to ask a clarification question will lead to better and more productive relationships. To contrast, by nodding positively, you’re indicating that you fully understand – but don’t. Imagine if the very question you are thinking would significantly add value to the issue at hand by having the courage to clarify.

Curiosity Readiness:

  1. How courageous are you to be curious in your work?
  2. How often are you pausing to evoke curiosity in a team meeting vs. moving through the agenda of actions?
  3. What conditions stop you from being curious:
    1. Confrontational situations?
    2. Big team meetings?
    3. When authority is in the room?

By reflecting on what may derail, you can allow yourself to work new muscles for greater impact and personal authority.

Is the Digital World Making Us Less Curious?

Our continued dive into the digital world of emailing and texting to move our projects forward is blocking us from human face-to-face interactions where we can pause to ask the curious questions. Powerful open-ended questions starting with “what” or “how” with the right tonality of curiosity invite collaboration and fresh thinking to any issue. Yet, if we are relying on email vs. live conversation – does it not reduce our ability to lead with curiosity?

Have you ever texted someone sitting near you vs. getting up and engaging in a conversation? With more workers emailing someone who is sitting next to their cubicles vs. engaging with them, it is resulting in an increase of work depersonalized. It’s time to have the courage to increase one-on-one exchanges to stimulate richer dialogue for possibility thinking and new ideas.

A generation ago, curiosity in conversations was more prevalent because of the face-to-face time where we heard the tonality behind the words and could read the body language at the same time. Workers spent more time being curious and crafting what they said and how they said it. With the absence of tonality and body language with emails and texts, we are often prone to misunderstanding or forming a false assumption. Worst, we then act on the misunderstanding or false assumption, and it can make the situation worse– resulting in poor outcomes, derailed relationships or stalled results.

Having the courage to be curious, regardless of newer or older work generations, fosters increased collaboration, innovation, and a sense of connection allowing the workplace to move forward with a greater appreciation as a “we” culture vs. a  “me” culture.

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