The Power of Curiosity at Work

By Sue Elliott

(Note: This article was originally published by Workplace Energetics.)


I recently had the privilege of traveling for a week with the CEO of a tech company. We were meeting with a major supplier for his company, as well as a potential investor, a potential new business partner and a prospective client who could mean a lot of business for his company.

I was facilitating conversations with all of these current and potential stakeholders. My role was to create a space for open and honest dialogue, and to help with negotiations, due diligence and relationship building.

And at the core of all that was curiosity.

If you’ve ever spent time with a three-year-old, you understand the power of curiosity. Three-year-olds are constantly asking questions, and most of them begin with the word why. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to brush my teeth? Why can’t I put chocolate syrup on my chicken (an excellent question!)?

You’ve probably noticed that three-year-olds don’t ask just one question, either. They keep asking and asking and drilling deeper. Often, they get to a point where we adults just can’t answer their questions anymore.

While this can definitely get frustrating for adults, it’s also empowering. Three-year-olds come from a place where everything is fresh and new and interesting. And sometimes they bring us with them and we get to see things in a new way.

Curiosity can serve the same purpose in business. For example, when something is going wrong, we can approach it with an attitude of interrogation: “I’m going to demand answers and get to the bottom of this.” Or we can approach it with an attitude of curiosity: “I wonder what’s going on here.”

Can you feel which attitude is going to create a space for open and honest dialogue leading to new insights ... and which attitude is not?

Our attitude very literally affects the energy of the people we speak with. Our attitude can cause someone to withdraw and become quiet, defensive and guarded. Or our attitude can cause someone to blossom and become clear, inspired and creative.

Plus, there’s another big bonus to showing up at work with curiosity: Curiosity doesn’t just affect the people we’re interacting with; it profoundly affects us.

While it’s true that we may feel lots of energy flowing through us while we’re interrogating someone, afterward, we’ll be left feeling drained and depleted (and so will the other person).

In contrast, being curious—for an hour or even a whole day—is more likely to leave us feeling satisfied, and often feeling eager, excited and energized.

Bottom line: Being curious is life-enhancing—and productive—for ourselves and for our people. That’s one of the reasons “Ask Powerful Questions” is Step 2 in The Easier Way Formula™.