When it comes to understanding people and situations I’ve not found anything more powerful than curiosity.
Curiosity drives understanding.
When our curiosity is low, our quest to understand is low, too.
How do we know?
We stop asking questions. Mostly because we either lack curiosity, we don’t care or we think we know enough already. Or any combination of those things.
I’ve told you before how limited my super-powers are, but I do have a few. The other day I’m having this conversation with a CEO about business. He’s telling me about his background and how he came to be where he is, both in business and life. He asks me about my background and I explain to him how I’m like so many of my generation who stumbled into things, made the most of it and it sorta worked out. I told him I wasn’t like the rare friends I had who grew up always wanting to “be” something specific. Or like those people who have many talents from which to pick. When your talents are somewhat limited life can get easier I suppose. You either soar with your strengths (as Donald O. Clifton evangelized, he of what once was “Clifton’s Strengthfinder” fame), or you don’t. The key is knowing your strength of course. Again, easier to do when there are so few of them. Harder to do when you have to pick among the many you may have.
At which point I made the remark that serves as today’s title. And he laughed. But it’s not merely a funny line. It’s completely true and we went on to discuss how asking questions is the only way to satisfy our curiosity. But also how afraid we often are to ask the questions – especially the ones that are most obvious to us at the moment.
Here’s some context for you, regarding the title.
The subject was the power of questions. And curiosity.
But the real subject was (and is) UNDERSTANDING.
Umpteen years ago I concluded that “the quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.” Whether it was a customer interaction, a vendor decision, a contract negotiation…questions seemed to be a great barometer of whether or not I was on track as a business leader. Any time I took a shortcut thinking I knew enough BEFORE asking more questions, I almost always lost. That’s why I made up my mind that after I had asked the obvious questions (those I felt were obvious), then I’d search for the not-so-obvious ones. I adopted the “Columbo Rule” of asking one more question after I felt I had exhausted all the questions.
Over the years I learned that the thing always getting my way was ME. My arrogance. My ego. My pride. That’s what would prevent me from getting the understanding I most needed to make better decisions and to behave better.
When that epiphany hit me it almost didn’t make sense. Only because of one thing – I had always embraced my naivete. I was the person unafraid of asking the stupid question. I was the person in the conversation circle when somebody would ask if you knew somebody, or if you’d seen some movie — who would say (if it were true), “No, I have no idea.” Rarely would I feign understanding. I’ve always been pretty shameless at avoiding pretense for the sake of understanding. Hence, the statement I made to the CEO which kinda-sorta serves as today’s show title: “I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at least I know I’m a knife…and not a fork.”
My being a knife is my strong desire and curiosity to understand.
Coaching executives and leaders involves me asking lots of questions. Not interrogating them, but in seeking to better understand what’s going on with them, and to figure out how they’re operating. Sometimes I’m trying to understand what they’re feeling whenever they̵...