I ask a lot of questions. I’m sure I drove my parents more than a little crazy with all my questions as a child. What was that like? What for? What if? Why not? Then we grow up and start believing that it is good and right to have answers, not questions. However, having studied the neuroscience behind motivation, engagement, behavior – and having worked with many leaders in creating sustainable positive change in their organizations – I am here to say that questions trump answers.
“Between our deep attachment to the answer – any answer – and our anxiety about not knowing, we have inadvertently thwarted our collective capacity for deep creativity and fresh perspectives.” From The Art of Powerful Questions by Juanita Brown, et al.
In the context of organizational change and relationships, when someone believes he or she has ‘the answer,’ it is often really an assumption. Or simply one possibility where many others may also exist. Letting go of assumptions and opening our minds and hearts to more possibilities leads not only to better communication and better decision-making, but also to greater engagement and more fulfilling relationships.
Curiosity is open, inviting, spacious – unattached to any outcome. And it is enormously powerful. Like scientific curiosity, which explores the deepest questions of matter, organisms, and life, curiosity in organizations allows individuals to enter deeper areas of themselves, their work, their interactions and relationships. Curiosity is simply looking; staying, well, curious about what might be found. Without attachment. Without judgement. A really cool thing about curiosity is that it cannot co-exist with judgment. So when we are being truly curious, we simply cannot be judgmental or hold onto assumptions. Think about it.
Here is my Top 7 List of favorite ‘curiosity-inspired’ questions:
- What assumptions are we making?
- What would the impact be? or How would that impact you / your ________ (team, project, health, …)?
- What else is possible?
- What might we do to move towards that?
- What’s important or significant about that?
- If we were to walk in tomorrow and the situation was exactly as you wish it to be, what is the first thing you would notice? OR If we were to walk in tomorrow and the situation was exactly as you wish it to be, what would be different for you?
- What are we learning from what’s happened?
Try one or two of them out (or one of your own) next time you are in conversation with someone. Curious questions will deepen the conversation and the connection you experience with the other person. And very likely will lead to new or better solutions too!
And if you’re interested, read these articles published by researchers in the fields of neuroscience and neuroleadership: