Choose to be Curious, Not Furious

Our guest post today is written by my esteemed friend and colleague, David Chinsky, of David Chinsky & Associates. His new blog will be one to watch, and is called The Fit Leader.

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.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

7 comments on “Choose to be Curious, Not Furious

  1. I can think of lots of applications for this post already. I am interested in seeing on how successful I can be using this technique at home… it is exponentially more difficult to stay curious home, with entrenched patterns of interaction.

    And David, welcome! You have found a great ally and help in Mary Jo. I look forward to seeing how your blog develops.

  2. I am so happy to find this articule. It made my day! This is a plus in my walking to my path!


  3. Excellent advice. A little conflict, if it's directed at the work rather than one another, can serve as a healthy contributor to coming up with the best ideas. As long as the emphasis is on the solution/idea versus WHO came up with it, people should be able to engage one another without hurt feelings or bruised egos. That said, it's imperative the leader set the tone for such dialogue.

  4. Thank you, David, for both the astute observations and the practical advice on how to reset our mindset in dealing with diverging ideas/opinions in a team effort.

    From my own experience working with several teams, whenever such confrontations came about, it was mostly because people walked into the meeting thinking they had the solution and didn't anticipate others might have a conflicting viewpoint. Your tips about the kinds of questions people should ask demonstrate how easily such disagreements can be avoided by keeping the focus on the end goal and not just the route taken to get there.

  5. Becky – let us know how this works with your family, and thanks for your welcome to my friend David.

    Jackytc – Happy to play a small part in making your day.

    Leo and Tanveer – thanks for adding your wise thoughts to the discussion.

  6. There I was reading David's wonderful post when my eye was draw ?€¦ wait ?€¦ could it be?

    It's Edgar the Leadership Pug, come to be with David, so he would not be scared. Good job, Edgar!

    Don't worry, David. We're weird, but we're nice.

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