I am a HUGE proponent of showing up with genuine curiosity at work.
Need to have a performance feedback conversation with an under-performing employee? There’s no better place to start than with curiosity. Need a solution to a seemingly no-win scenario with a customer? Again, a bit of curiosity goes a long way.
And yet, I know I’m guilty of this. I’m curious if you are too?
The more experienced I am with something or someone, the harder it is to show up curious.
I think “oh, I’ve seen this movie before, I know why he’s acting that way…AGAIN.” And I lose the natural curiosity which could lead to deeper trust and connection. Not to mention actually learning what’s REALLY going on.
Or I hear about a team in distress and their concerns sound so familiar. My mind rushes to the dozens (or more) times I’ve worked with teams facing similar challenges. But of course, their issues might smell familiar, but they are each unique in their own way.
And sometimes, I’m working so hard that I forget one of the most important things to be curious about. How I’m feeling about the work I’m doing and the contribution I’m making.
Experience without curiosity can be dangerous.
Five Opportunities to Show Up with a Bit More Curiosity at Work
So I’ve put together this starter list of opportunities for deeper curiosity at work. I’m hoping you’ll share your number 6.
1. How you are REALLY feeling…
I was recently catching up with a client (turned into a friend) whom we had worked with several years ago, right after our first book came out. Let’s call him Fred.
Fred was absolutely beaming about all the progress his team had made. Everything he had worked to put into place was humming along. His team was empowered, he was able to spend his time on critical strategic priorities, trust was high, and performance was strong.
Fred was proud of the human-centered workplace culture he had worked tirelessly to create.
Of course, I was impressed and we took a moment to celebrate.
And then, Fred stopped and looked at me through the Zoom window with an intensity so deep, I held my breath as I waited for what he would say next which went something like this…
“It IS all so good. And I am PROUD of all the team has accomplished. But sometimes I just put so much pressure on myself to keep stretching to the next thing, that I get riddled with anxiety. It takes away the fun. It seems I’m never quite satisfied with my own performance. I just wish I could feel more at peace in the striving.
I smiled because he had articulated the words I’m feeling so acutely right now. HIS WORDS could have been MY WORDS and I told him so.
That moment was so powerful and led to a much deeper conversation.
One of the most important opportunities to have more curiosity at work is to pause and consider how you’re really feeling.
Not how you should be feeling.
Not how other people are feeling (you can do that in number two).
How you are feeling and why.
2. How they (your team, your peers, your boss) are ACTUALLY feeling…
You and I both know that “how are you?” is not even remotely the best way to know how someone is actually feeling. Asking deeper questions can make all the difference (for a good start see, compassionate conversation starters).
This opportunity for curiosity at work can feel daunting, but I’ve found it surprising how meaningful and effective a simple inquiry can be.
- “I know there’s a lot going on. I’m curious, how are you doing with all this?”
- “Thanks for the updates. Before we close, how’s Jon?” (assuming you’re talking with Jon)
- “Before we start our one-on-one today, I know ________ (insert news event here), is weighing on many of our hearts and minds right now. I care about you and the rest of the team. Would it be helpful to pause first and talk about anything you are feeling?
3. What’s working and why
Another, often overlooked opportunity for curiosity at work is looking at the good stuff. It’s human nature to take what’s working for granted and to concentrate your time and energy on fixing what’s broken.
A few conversation starters:
- This project exceeded our customer’s expectations. What do you think you did specifically that led to this success?
- Sales are significantly up in your market month over month. What is your team doing now that could have caused this success?
- Or you could host a post-project celebration.
4. What’s really causing that performance issue (or bad decision)
One of the most tempting times to skip past curious is when you’re furious. It’s tempting to start with all the “why” questions that immediately put the person on the defensive.
And yet, this is one of the most vital opportunities for curiosity at work.
Participants in our leadership development programs tell us our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method for performance feedback and accountability conversations really helps them to start from a position of curiosity. The magic of this model comes from the P- Probe and the I- Invite, where you start with an open mind to understand what’s really happening and draw the other person into dialogue.
5. What’s the most important thing you can accomplish this month
With all the uncertainty and change in the world, it’s easy for your team to get overwhelmed with all there is to do, and whether it’s still the right thing.
One of our clients, Martin Price, Chairman, and CEO of HealthTrackRX, asks every senior leader on his team to report on ONE THING they will do in the coming month to support their biggest company MIT. It has to be measurable. And it has to tie directly to that one MIT.
I asked Martin to share a bit more about the “why” behind his approach.
I would describe the why as this: As much as we try to narrow to the MITS, there are always competing priorities and it’s hard to stay disciplined to projects whose completion date is months away. But the success of any project are the incremental steps taken along the way and I thought that by really narrowing it to one measurable thing for each leader in the next 30 days we could build a sense of momentum on longer term projects and also challenge the team to accelerate the finish on items that could be done within the month so we could celebrate wins.
And how it’s going so far…
As for how it’s going. A mixed bag, in most cases traceable to how much effort each leader put into identifying the MIT and their part in achieving it.
It’s easier for the project leaders; more challenging for those without direct responsibility to an MIT. That’s where we’ll look to fine tune in the coming months. Pushing more ownership and accountability at the individual level to supporting the MITs.
I love this for several reasons.
First, by asking the question, he creates real clarity about the company MIT (at a time when there are many competing priorities). And then, he’s encouraging his team to get really curious about the ONE most important action that will have the biggest impact. And, he’s creating shared accountability and conversation so the team can support one another.
Of course, there are opportunities to show up a bit more curious at work all day long. It can be a helpful exercise as you’re interacting with people and projects to stop and reflect on what you are most curious about in this situation. And to invite others on your team to do the same.
6. What would you add?