Today I am going to talk about judgment and its antidote: curiosity. At StepUp, we do a lot of work with tech firms and have the opportunity to work with companies that are doing truly amazing things. The people that are in sessions with us – I kid you not, are brilliant. They can think of things and do things with numbers that I simply cannot grasp. It is amazing. It is creative. It’s complex. And we are not being brought in to help them with what they are doing. We are brought in to help them with how they are doing it – with each other. Because, they need new tools to work better together.
What can sometimes happen with folks who are working with absolutes – like numbers- or with people who are so brilliant – is that they can become somewhat judgmental. People are “in” or “out.” They are, “smart” or “stupid.” They “get it:” or they “don’t get it.” And judgment is corrosive. Over the years, I have seen people judge other people. I have worked with groups who judge other groups. And we think that those people that we are judging do not notice that we are judging them – but they do. They know. Or worst, they suspect.
This can create a challenging and, at times, unhealthy work environment. And, as managers, you’re responsible for the environment that people are working in. It is one of those things that people don’t tell you – your job is no longer doing the work – but now your job is to think about the atmosphere that folks are working in. That can be a challenging thing to wrap your arms around.
So, step number one is to become aware – a theme near and dear to our hearts here at StepUp. Try and pay attention to when you are in that place of judgment. And when you are, and we all go there, try on curiosity!!
Curiosity is this amazing thing: the power of just simply being curious. Exploring it yields so many different things: conversation, engagement, suspicion, deep knowing, fear, vulnerability, new information, enlightenment and openness just to name a few.
A number of years ago I was given this assignment to approach someone who I didn’t particularly like or get along with that well with curiosity. I was freelancing at that time in an advertising agency. So, I approached a woman who had been particularly challenging at work. I purposefully went in on Monday morning and was just curious about what she was doing, what she did the previous weekend, what was her life like, etc. It was interesting and the conversation unfolded a little like a rolling wave. As we were talking, she gave me a few answers, then became defensive. I could hear her saying to herself, “Why is she asking me all these questions? Does she really want to know?” and just when we reached the crest of the wave, she came down the other side. She relaxed into telling me about preparing for her sons first birthday party that was coming up, projects she was working on, etc. Ultimately, it opened both of us up.
What I realized is that when you approach someone with genuine curiosity, it’s impossible to be judgmental at the same time. Curiosity is the antidote to judgment.
So, I encourage you to try asking a few questions. Make them simple. Keep them open-ended. Jeff did a great podcast #12 on Powerful Questions – use them to get curious. So, questions might be:
- What is important about that?
- What did you do to achieve the result in that way?
- What do you want?
- What do you think we need?
- What is that like for you?
Just to name a few.
So give it a try. Where do you think you have it all figured out? Or who do you think you have all figured out? Who is particularly difficult for you to work with? I also invite you to get curious with one another. You can lead by example and encourage your team to get curious with one another. It is not complicated – it just begins with the conscious step to become curious. See how it can change the atmosphere of your group. One thing that we know is that you cannot change “them – the other – him or her.” But if you change your own approach it can change how they respond. It all begins with you.
SO, I invite you to approach a conversation by being genuinely curious to see what happens, how it opens up. The whole thought process made me realize, if we just got curious with one another – we might just be just a little bit more human with each other. And who doesn’t want to work with a group that allows for more humanity? We might have more options to choose from or learn something different or get to a different answer faster.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s 5-minute Epiphanies to Mine the Mess for Success – Tips, snippets and Stories. For more information check us out at https://www.stepupleadership.com. Join us next week when Jeff and I are going to talk about safe vs. unsafe work environments.