My desk holds a funny gadget: the British Queen, who starts dancing when light falls on the sensor in the base, a true “Dancing Queen”. A few days ago our tomcat Binkie was stretched out and dozing on my papers – as he does occasionally – in a total zen state of mind. But then he detected a movement from the corner of his eye (how he managed this with his eyes closed is a mystery to me). His curiosity was immediately aroused and he went on inspection. He carefully crept closer, wary but clearly with a burning desire to know if there was some kind of opportunity. He sniffed the swaying Queen and then kept staring at it for minutes, totally mesmerised.
Animals, like children, can be so disarmingly curious. I find it a beautiful quality, it shows a genuine interest, a wish to know, a desire to understand. Nevertheless, from an early age we learn that it is not polite to be curious or to ask too many questions. But curiosity is natural. We do not learn to be curious – we learn not to.
As a coach it is one of the most powerful ways of working with your client. You ask about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in order to dig deeper. You start from a situation of ‘not knowing’, of opening up yourself and being completely unprejudiced; from a fascination by who that other person is. It is a precious gift for the other to be genuinely curious about him or her and to listen to their thoughts, what is important to them, what their deepest wishes and desires are. Curiosity is a fixed given within a coaching relationship, but imagine how much richer, warmer and more fascinating our lives would be if we would also embrace this in everyday life? Curiosity is the opposite of assumption and judgment – and I wrote in the previous Inspiration what assumption can do to relationships.
Neuroscience has demonstrated the great importance of curiosity. Research with fMRI scans shows an increase in brain activity in those zones associated with learning and behavioural change when a person is approached with openness and compassion. That activity does not show when the focus is on someone’s imperfections and when he or she is not given the chance to come up with solutions. And this is exactly the way we usually treat each other, our children and colleagues.
For the next two weeks try to ask genuinely curious questions to the persons you often deal with. Ask what is on their mind, what they find important in life, what makes them happy. These are not questions you normally ask and at first it may be difficult or awkward. Refrain from giving your opinion or telling your stories. Observe what happens, how it makes you feel. Realise it is not only a gift to the person you are talking to, but also to yourself.
Albert Einstein said: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious“, and we all know where that got him and what it has brought the world. You know what to do!