A client of mine was complaining about the people who ignore her well-intentioned advice. My client is extremely knowledgeable and talented. She is dedicated to doing good work. She wants to be seen as a major contributor as well as a leader, but there is one emotion that is holding her back – curiosity.
Curiosity is the most underrated emotion. It is not taught as a positive emotional state, and “being the one who knows” is one of the most commonly praised but bad habits practiced around the world. You need curiosity to succeed at work and in life.
Don’t just be curious – feel it. Socrates said, “The wisdom begins in wonder.”
Curiosity and Personal Success
Stanford psychology professor Carol S. Dweck explores curiosity in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. People with a fixed mindset spend more time protecting what they know than on opening themselves to learning from others they don’t see as experts. People with a growth mindset take on more challenges, persist longer, and bounce back in the face of setbacks.
Some of the smartest people have a fixed mindset. They are only curious to learn and expand on what they are good at. In the workplace, they are less inclined to help others and might hoard information. It is more important that they are seen as better than others than as equals.
A fixed mindset comes from mostly being praised on what you know and do well, which you then constantly have to prove and protect. Parents, teachers, and leaders who praise the best results perpetuate fixed mindsets. Even if you were raised this way, you can develop a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset allows you to be comfortable with not knowing everything. You can be curious and willing to try new things because you will grow, not fail.
If you have a growth mindset, you have been praised on your process – your persistence, positive attitude, and willingness to try new things. Parents, teachers, and leaders should balance praising results with praising process. You can learn to do this for yourself by periodically stepping back to admire what you are working on and feeling proud of your effort.
Curiosity can also help you change your habits. In his 2015 TED talk, Psychiatrist Judson Brewer described how stopping to notice and being curious about what you’re doing, why you are choosing to do this, and what else could you choose to do can lead to long-term change.
Curiosity and Developing Success in Others
When in difficult conversations with others, you can either work hard at proving you are right or be curious why people think and act the way they do. When your ego is in charge, you want to be the one who knows or who can solve the problems. You might feel good about yourself, but you are both distancing yourself from others and limiting their ability to learn.
Cultivating the joy of curiosity at work increases learning, productivity, creativity, and engagement. When you believe in someone’s ability to figure things out, you encourage their curiosity. This is the best way to help them grow. Being curious and helping people think through their situations is much more empowering than sharing your experiences.
Carol Dweck says encouraging curiosity can also help with conflict resolution. If you feel curious about what is going on and believe in the possibility of a solution, the people you are with might shift to looking for ways to resolve their issues as well.
How to Feel the Emotion of Curiosity
- Notice when you are stuck in judgment. As you take a breath, say the word “curious” to yourself and let it sink into your heart. Be interested in what is occurring in the conversation instead of what you think is right or wrong. See if you can sense what they are protecting or what they are afraid they aren’t getting in the situation, such as respect, being understood, acknowledgment, or safety.
- When you feel the urge to jump in and tell the person what is the right thing to do, shift your attention back on the person who is stuck or struggling to understand something. Notice your breath. Release your tension. Let go of the words you are dying to say. Be interested in what the person is experiencing and care about their growth as a human. Then ask questions about what you are hearing and sensing to help them understand themselves and the situation better.
- When someone has made a mistake, open the conversation by offering to look at what happened and what could happen next. Do this for yourself as well. When you make a mistake, consider the lesson learned instead of brooding on what you did.
- Quit thinking you are too busy to be curious.
Rumi said, “Out beyond wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Take people to this place of possibility by using and encouraging curiosity.
Listening with the emotion of curiosity takes practice and sustained effort. When first developing this habit, it will take a lot of energy. Over time, you’ll find it easier than having to know all the answers. You might also find that discovering interesting tidbits about people and things you didn’t know about them can be more enjoyable than only living inside your head.
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