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Curiosity in the Workplace: How to Develop an Inquisitive Attitude and Become a Better Leader

A parent or adult probably told you at some point during your childhood “curiosity killed the cat” in an irritated response to your incessant questioning. Everybody is naturally born curious, but studies have shown that this trait starts to dissipate around the time kids reach elementary school age. We become discouraged when we discover that […]

A parent or adult probably told you at some point during your childhood “curiosity killed the cat” in an irritated response to your incessant questioning. Everybody is naturally born curious, but studies have shown that this trait starts to dissipate around the time kids reach elementary school age. We become discouraged when we discover that adults are unable to answer every single “why” we pose in attempting to learn about the world around us. It is unfortunate because retaining curiosity as adults has been proven to positively impact the quality of decision-making, improve innovation, reduce group conflict, and improve communication, productivity, and team performance

Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something, and it’s essential for any professional. It is required to improve your skills and figure out how to fix things that don’t work. Without curiosity, you can easily fall into the trap of doing everything the same way because “that’s how I’ve always done it.” Luckily, there are ways you can reignite your curiosity trait. The space for inquisitiveness can be created in small and unexpected ways without any elaborate changes to your lifestyle.

Slow down to create time for research and reflection

In today’s fast-paced work environments, it can be difficult to comprehend that slowing down can improve work performance. But combining a demanding work schedule with constant interferences like the internet, social media, and cell phones means that we often don’t leave time for ourselves to cut out distractions and think. During my time as CEO of one of the fastest-growing internet companies in the world, I made it a point to schedule myself some unstructured time each workday to preserve some of using my curiosity to look at problems from new angles and mentally play out multiple potential solutions. If there weren’t any immediately pressing problems, I’ve used the time to read up on any and every subject that interests me. For me, this often entails learning about the stories of other successful executives within my field. In learning about the paths they took to become great at their positions, I can accumulate the wisdom they’ve gained and potentially misstepping any failures they experienced.

Be open to the opinions and ideas of others

One of the most important and fundamental skills one can develop in life is being a good listener. By utilizing your curiosity, in addition to actively listening, you open yourself up to a plethora of new ideas and opinions that were previously out of your scope. As leaders, it can be easy to feel that as the person in charge, your opinion is “most right” and therefore choose to negate the ideas of others. Still, by exercising your curiosity, you open yourself and, by extension, your company to innovation. When presented with an idea that challenges your own, instead of writing it off, try asking yourself, “how can I learn more about a perspective I don’t yet understand?” To cultivate openness, question rather than judge by your own beliefs. In doing so, you not only show your colleagues and employees that you trust and value their opinion, but also open yourself up to new perspectives that you otherwise may not have considered or experienced.

Practice asking “why” and other good questions

My biggest takeaway from law school was that the most critical question you can ask someone is, “why?” It is imperative as a leader to be able to form a sound comprehension of the decisions and strategies that are being put forward. Too often, ideas and plans are adopted without having a real dialogue before execution, and the fact that our in our language words can have multiple meanings even when expressed in a different tone exemplifies that clarification is crucial. In addition to this, if you don’t understand something that was said, you should never leave a conversation with lingering questions. It’s amazing how often our collaboration improves after we spend a bit of time digging into what someone truly means when they say something. No question is a bad one. It is better to get a clear grasp at present rather than revisit the topic later. By developing the habit of asking questions, you also encourage those around you to utilize their curiosity, so they are better able to answer yours.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Nobody likes feeling discomfort, but when it comes to the workplace, feeling uneasy about something is usually an indication that you are missing some key knowledge or skill set. Rather than avoiding these feelings, being curious means learning to recognize the discomfort and the opportunity to discover something new. To overcome the fear of uncertainty, I instead try to flip my way of thinking to excitement at the prospect of gaining a new skill. By reframing the ambiguity from something negative into one where there are infinite possibilities and opportunities, you open yourself up to being more flexible, as well as to adapt quickly and creatively to changing situations.

Perhaps most importantly, investing in your curiosity means investing in yourself as a person. By cultivating a curious mindset, you open yourself to unexpected possibilities, create moments to pause, and recognize how much you can learn from others in your workplace by asking good questions. When I’m feeling particularly drained of curiosity, I like to look to my young daughter for inspiration on igniting the flame again, because at the end of the day it is a choice. She chooses to be curious each day, and the more you cultivate your curiosity, the more you exemplify it to the people around you.

Follow Greg Blatt on gregblatt.co/ and Medium.

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