Do you have a tendency to tell more often than you ask?  Do you love giving advice, but worry that asking for help will make you look less competent?  The truth is, we all have a deeply ingrained habit of slipping into the advice-giver, expert, answer-it, solve-it, fix-it mode.  After all, our brains are wired with a strong preference for certainty.

“Giving advice – even if it’s the wrong advice – often feels far more comfortable than the ambiguity of asking a question,” explained Michael Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit and owner of Box Of Crayons when I interviewed him recently.  “But when you lead with curiosity you’re more likely to be focused on the stuff that matters.  Because when you’re navigating complexity, which we all are, the obvious challenge is often not the challenge, and the obvious solution is not always the solution.”

Although you may feel it’s quicker to jump straight to a solution, if you can hold back and remain curious, you create a better environment of collaboration with others and have a better chance of reaching the right solution.  Curiosity has also been found to increase engagement, as it allows us to be more confident, more competent, autonomous, and self-sufficient.  

But how can you stay curious when it feels like all the world wants from you is answers?

Michael suggests trying the following to stay curious: 

  • Tame your ‘advice monster’ Being helpful and offering advice feels like second nature because you have honed that skill over a lifetime of practice.  Here are some questions you can ask instead of giving advice.
    • “And what else?” stops you from assuming you have the answers too quickly.
    • “What’s the real challenge here for you?” helps you avoid treating symptoms instead of causes.
    • “If we’re saying yes to that, what are we saying no to?” helps you balance demands and resources.
    • “What would need to be true for this to happen?” ensures you’re not making random judgments about an idea.
  • Develop a sense of fascination when things go wrong – It’s tempting to beat yourself up when things go wrong, but what if you approached things going wrong with a sense of understanding and curiosity?  What if you were able to throw your hands in the air and say, “How fascinating!” or, “Plot Twist!”  These simple somatic gestures embody both resilience and kindness.  They can help you be curious and focus on what you can learn, rather than feeling overwhelmed that things didn’t go to plan.
  • Be the change you want to see in others – Whether you’re in a small family business or a larger organization, take stock of the circle of people around you and think about who you have influence over.  Do you celebrate when other people have been curious around you?  Can you reinforce curious behavior in other people by recognizing when they’ve stayed curious for longer?

How can you foster and celebrate curiosity in your workplace?    To discover more evidence-based practices to help people thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast.