Listening With Curiosity

I’ll be honest – until a few years ago I thought I was right most of the time. And not just about my life, but also about what was best for others. I was humbled when I finally I stepped back and really listened to other people’s ideas – I realized that while my conclusions and solutions might be right for me, they often weren’t right for them.

When I was training to be a life coach in my first coaching class we were taught to “stay in curiosity”; to simply ask questions without drawing conclusions or trying to guide others to “see it our way”. This was a rude awakening for many of the students in the class – we’d come to coaching because we felt we had wisdom to share. What I learned was that people’s thoughts, perceptions and conclusions often had no resemblance to my own, and what I thought was right for them was often flat out wrong.

Staying in curiosity isn’t just for coaches. Staying in curiosity will help you be a better partner, parent, boss, co-worker or team member. Learning to stay open with others is powerful for both you and them – you have the benefit of learning about others, and they have the treat of being really listened to with respect and openness.

Try these 5 tips for staying in curiosity:

#1. Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling
It’s true that when you’ve known someone a long time you might have a good idea about what’s going on with them. But what’s key here is that you might not. You might have been making incorrect assumptions about them for years! And we all change, what was true about someone yesterday might not be true today.

#2. Listen
So often when someone is talking to us we are mentally crafting our replies, evaluating what they are saying, or, sometimes, we might even be off composing our grocery list.
To really listen:

  • Keep your mind clear of opinions, answers and conclusions. Seek to discover what information the speaker is providing.
  • Stay neutral, don’t shift your focus to your emotional response or start trying to figure out solutions.
  • Let the other person finish, don’t interrupt or jump in with your thoughts.

#3. Don’t provide solutions or give advice
Ouch! We all love to provide our insights to others, especially when we think we can help. And we may even be right some of the time! However, the fact is that all of us are much more inspired by solutions we design ourselves than those provided by someone else. There’s a great deal of value to be gained by going through the process of figuring out what to do – we learn more about ourselves, the situation we are in, and how to succeed when we seek our own solutions.

#4. Avoid soothing
It can be uncomfortable to listen to other people’s hurts and problems; we want to make their sorrow go away. Sometimes we try to sooth them with statements like “Everything will be ok.” Or we inadvertently invalidate their feelings with comments like “I know you’re sad your best friend moved away, but you’ll find other friends.” As hard as it is, it’s a wonderful gift to someone to just be there for them when they’re in pain, and listen to them work though it without trying to fix things or make the hurt go away.

#5. Stay curious
As people talk to you, get curious about what they are experiencing. The best curious questions are short and simple and are directed at the speaker’s current experience and feelings. Some examples of curious questions – “How do you feel about what she said?”, “What’s the most stressful aspect of this situation?” or “What’s your biggest concern?” Notice that none of the questions attempt to lead the speaker to a solution, they just allow space for them to process their experience.

Staying open when listening to others isn’t easy. I still find myself dishing out unasked for advice, or cutting people off when I think I know what they are going to say. But really being curious is a lovely gift to give to the people around us, and you’ll be surprised what you can learn when you aren’t stuck in your own preconceptions.

Test your knowledge of curious questions below. Identify whether each question or comment is:
A) Disguised advice B) Curious C) Soothing

1. Are you sure you don’t want to do it this way?__________________

2. I know it was bad, but it will be better tomorrow!_____________________

3. How did you react when he said that to you?____________________

4. Oh don’t say that – you know it isn’t true!_____________________

5. What is important about this?_________________

6. Do you think you should tell your manager?________________

Answers: 1 A, 2 C, 3 B, 4 C, 5 B, 6 A

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