“You don’t have to know everything in the world. We aren’t supposed to. It makes you boring in mixed company if you can’t be interested and ask questions of other people.” ~ Angela Johnson
I know enough about myself to know that I get really frustrated by people who don’t ask any questions of others. You know the type, right? Those who talk and talk and talk, and who never pause and ask, “So, what about you?” It’s called the art of conversation. It’s called the gift of curiosity. It’s called expressing a genuine interest in someone else.
Three recent scenarios.
- A colleague and I were at a business dinner with a client. As many business meals go, we started with a general catch-up on what was going on personally, segued into talking business, and then culminated with more small talk as we took care of paying the bill. As we left the restaurant, my colleague and I realized that we had kept that conversation going. By the end of dinner, we knew all about our client’s family, their new rescue dog, the renovation on their beach house, their daughter who was just starting college and studying business administration with a minor in Japanese studies, and their last three vacations. As we hailed our cab, it occurred to us that we were never once asked what was going on in our lives. It was exhausting. The entire meal had been a monologue.
- I was asked to be part of a 3-day mentor/mentee program (as the mentor!). The purpose of the 3-days was for the mentees to ask questions and learn from the “wise” (older) women with whom they had been paired. At the end of the 3 days, we were encouraged to give feedback and coaching to our mentees. I asked my mentee if she knew what I did for a living? No. Where I had gone to school? No. What I had studied? No. Did she even know that I had two kids, one of whom was the same age as her? No. We proceeded to have a fabulous discussion about the importance of asking questions of others in order to learn. I hope she considered that feedback a gift that she will never forget.
- I flew out to Seattle to visit a friend. She has two kids, an adorable boy age 7 and a sweet girl age 9. Within an hour of meeting them, the little girl asked, “What’s your job?” and then her brother asked, “What’s your favorite sport?” It rolled from there as they bombarded me with questions. “Do you have a pet? What kind?” “What is her name?” “Do you like the Atlanta Braves? What kind of car do you drive?” “How old are your kids?” “Are they out of school for summer yet?” “How hot does it get in Atlanta?” It was a phenomenal conversation and I can honestly say out of the conversations I highlighted above, this one was by far the most engaging and fulfilling! These little people haven’t lost the joy of asking questions of others and learning more about them. I, of course, turned the tables, and asked them all sorts of questions about their school, their friends, and their lives. What ensued was a rich dialogue!
Many of our corporate clients have “curiosity” as part of their core values and leadership competencies. We agree! Curiosity is a great thing to have. It keeps us moving forward and developing, as opposed to becoming stagnant and stale. As part of a corporate “value,” many of our clients define “curiosity” as a desire to learn new things, to engage as a lifelong learner, to understand about how things work, and to stay abreast of the latest product developments and technologies. Yes, all of that is important in leadership.
What I would like to add is a piece about “conversational” curiosity. There is an art to asking questions as part of a dialogue and getting to know more about people. I sometimes fear this is a dying art! Think about how much better our relationships would be if we took the time to get to know each other. Manager/employee relationships? Client/customer relationships? Business partner/peer relationships? Producer/supplier relationships?
“The most successful people in life are the ones who ask questions. They’re always learning. They’re always growing. They’re always pushing.” ~ Robert Kiyosaki