Watching my clients interact in team meetings provides me with numerous examples of how people tend to get “furious rather than curious” when they disagree with something someone else has said. Many of us jump too quickly to let a colleague “see” why they are wrong, and how their logic is faulty.
Perhaps we do this because we want to be viewed as being smart ourselves and on top of things. Perhaps we have just been waiting to catch this one person saying something that we can refute. Regardless of why we do it, whenever we choose to disagree first and ask questions later, our colleagues often feel attacked, become defensive and simply dig in their heels more deeply in support of their original position.
What is the alternative to this downward spiraling interaction?
A better way to engage with colleagues is to be curious. That’s right! If someone says something that you do not agree with, or even that you “know” is incorrect, begin with a question. And, not just any question. Ask an open-ended question, one that can’t be answered with a “Yes” or “No”. The secret is to come from a “place of not knowing”.
Most good open-ended questions begin with a “What” or “How”. For example, “What will the outcome of your suggested solution have on the underinsured population?” or “How do you see this new policy working on the weekends”?
When you look closely at these two questions, you can see that I am concerned with how the proposed solution might play out in certain circumstances. Rather than just coming out and saying why I don’t think the solution is practical, however, I come at it from a place of curiosity, where I invite my colleague to think more deeply with me about the consequences or implications of his or her thinking.
When I follow this approach, I accomplish several outcomes. First, and foremost, I don’t initiate the common defensive reaction that usually accompanies pushback. Instead, I am simply engaging in conversation that is motivated by my interest in learning more about the other person’s approach or thinking. Others are often more than willing to help educate us about their thinking.
The second outcome of this “asking questions” or “being curious” approach is that learning is advanced and encouraged. By asking clarifying questions, everyone is encouraged to take the proposed solution to a deeper level where we are able to test it and make sure it holds up under pressure. Often, the more robust ideas and most practical (read, implementable) solutions are those that include the ideas of multiple team members.
A third positive outcome of this approach is that team members begin to see and appreciate the value and importance placed on their individual ideas. When individuals repeatedly are beaten down when they offer up their ideas, they quickly learn to keep their ideas to themselves.
In an environment where others are quick to disagree and shoot down perspectives of others, the flow of ideas quickly comes to an end. This unfortunately prevents the best ideas and solutions from being developed as everyone advocates for their own point of view by trying to weaken the strength of others’ contributions.
When team members instead choose to be curious, they invite others to continue sharing their ideas willingly and to keep their contributions at a high level. As a result, the conversations around the table change dramatically for the better, and the number of good workable solutions begins to increase. Everyone wins when we choose to be curious, not furious.