The Most Underrated Emotion That Can Drive Your Success

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.”

cat curiosity

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

If you would like to have me speak at your upcoming event or talk about leadership training and coaching, please reach to me at:

Marcia Reynolds

tel:+1 602 954 9030


  1. Harvette Dixon says:

    Thank you, Marcia! This is a terrific article, especially because it not only highlights the benefits of being curious but also tells us how to improve our ability to be curious.

    • Thanks Harvette. I have been working curiosity into my teaching and found that telling people “be curious” is not enough!

      • Brian Dooley says:

        Marcia, I appreciate your work, and see how this practice is so important to make contact with each other. I have recently been reading a book on curiosity and wanted to pass it along to you, and my fellow learners… The Power of Curiosity: How to Have Real Conversations that create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding, written by a mother daughter team. It’s been really helpful, in giving me a structure for trying to make myself more curious. The authors assert that telling is a habit of industrial age thinking and very hierarchical. That the information age means we ALL have access to unlimited information, so connection and collaboration is preferred. We know more than Me. Ask and learn, and you’ll connect. Make discomfort natural. Thanks for your great work and liberal sharing of your expertise.

        • Brian, thank you for the tip on the book, The Power of Curiosity. I will order it today. Your comments are so true; what we want from our conversations and leaders has changed. Curiosity is the foundation of connection!

  2. Beautiful article Marcia.I shared it on Facebook.

  3. I am now feeling better about being constantly curious. There is so much more to learn and teh older I get, the more I know I don’t know. Carol Dweek’s book is sitting on my shelf–along with far too many other books– all that I am curious to read. Just need more time in the day or the talent of a speed reader. I also love your 4 ideas when faced with conflict. Perfect, Thanks, Marcia

  4. I have found that acting on curiousity also expands influence. Listening, actively allows the listener to develop a relationship with the speaker that
    Builds trust and makes space for input.
    Good job and thank you for sharing.

  5. Cynthia Bernstein says:

    At 76 yrs of age this article applies to myself as well as my adult children who do not like me ‘giving advice’ as they know it all! I am sure this resonates with many parents and grandparents. I hesitated to send this article as I would be criticised for giving them advice again.

    • Curiosity would definitely help family relationships; lots of history and ego wrapped up in our listening. Curiosity and love will probably go a long way. Thank you for checking in, Cynthia.

  6. Jana Lyn Kelly says:

    I am grateful for this article. I enjoyed how it highlights the virtue of curiosity. Engaging in new ideas and sharing insights with others fills my cup of joy to overflowing. Leaders should talk with their directs, vendors, and contractors to learn things they would otherwise miss. I had a great conversation with an older gentleman who has given 15 years service to our company within our cafe. He had pride in his work and his achievement of longevity. I acknowledged his experience and saw that he knows the company better than most of the employees. I respect people of such caliber and good character.

    • Jana Lyn, thank you for the reminder to listen with curiosity to people who have been around for a while. We often disregard “seniors” as irrelevant when their perspective can be transforming. It just takes a moment to be curious yet it can make such a difference to those we are listening to as well as ourselves.

  7. Bruce Morgan says:

    Thanks for some thought provoking ideas and suggestions on curiosity and how we can use it to understand the perspectives of others and support them in achieving their potential. The key in my experience when following up on a mistake is to make sure I’m coming from a place of genuine curiosity rather than seeking to confirm my own view of what happened. If I approach the conversation in that manner it is much easier for me to see what I could have done differently (I.e. provided clearer expectations or more support) to have helped to avoid the mistake as well as to support the other person in examining what they could have done differently.

  8. Thanks for this. I particularly like your comment about having a ‘growth mindset’ where you are comfortable not knowing everything. When we think we know everything, we are creating an illusion as we can always learn more and curiosity supports us in our continued learning.
    Curiosity also helps us navigate conflict. Neuroscience has shown that when we are curious with another, dopamine is released which makes us feel good. We have learned that even in conflict if we are curious with others, dopamine will be released so we can feel good, stay in the conversation and connect to understand, not to agree, thereby working through any potential conflict.

  9. Very nice. Werner Erhard used to say, “If you want to be interesting, be interested.”
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