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Using Curiosity for More Effective Workplace Communications

June 7, 2022

Posted by Lai Han Sam (Ms), PCC

“Oh my goodness! It is the weekend and she insisted on getting the details on the project now!”, exclaimed a client, throwing his hands up recently at a coaching session. He was talking about one of his direct reports.

“Can’t she see the big picture here? The details are important but not important enough to push for it on a weekend, upsetting everyone. Also, she has been nit-picking on her team mates’ work – they complained to me about her behaviour. What should I do?”

In this situation, it is often likely that we want to vilify the person who is behaving in a way that is slowing things down, insistent on his/her way or focusing on areas that perhaps are not important at the moment. Feeling frustrated, cornered and irritated, others around her may move away from her or pigeon hole her into a stereotype.

My client wanted to speak to her but don’t know where to start. Instead of thinking the worst of her, I encouraged him to reflect about her as a person, her work thus far and if this is a recent development. I asked him to consider operating from a place of curiosity about her rather than just working on problem solving.

In the workplace, we have to work with co-workers who may have a very different working style from us. Some like all the details before making a decision, others prefer a broad decision to move things forward quickly. Some prefer to consult with the team, while others make decisions based on popularity. If we do not try to understand each other’s style, and make the effort to adjust how we communicate with different styles, then we would experience communication and relationship breakdowns.

How can one then move our focus from reacting in tension to responding with curiosity? Here are some steps you can take to tap on curiosity for more effective communications at work.

Manage Your Emotions

Until we can manage our own emotions to a calm and neutral place, our thinking will be narrow and most times, limited to our opinions in the moment. This is because our brain in reacting in a flight or fight mode, comes from a place of self-preservation. If you have experienced shying away from a hard conversation or wanting to win an argument at work, you will know that neither have very good outcomes. Instead of coming to a collaborative decision, you either sweep things under the carpet or fight to win. There is another way.

Calm your mind and body by taking a pause. It may also mean you have to tell your co-worker you need time to think before talking again. Even if that is not possible, you can still calm yourself by taking a deep breath before talking. Take the time you need – the effort you make can also help your co-worker to take a pause to breathe. Silence if your friend.

Ask Yourself What You Really Want/Need

In that moment of pause, ask yourself. What do you really want? A fight to win or to come to a decision that is collaborative with a good strong basis? Once you are clear, inquire into yourself to find out what actions and words you would like to use to come to a conclusion that is beneficial and will meet the needs of all.

Ask Your Co-Worker What They Want/Need

In most arguments, we are unable to hear what the other party really want (incidentally, you will notice they raise their voices, as they sense you are not listening!) – because we can only hear what we want. Tap into your curiosity and ask questions before jumping to conclusions. Ask for clarity around their needs, their goals and their circumstances. The goal in this step is to come to an understanding of these areas. Only when we can see the entire system including all points that we can make decisions together well.

When you do this from a place of curiosity sincerely, your co-worker would be experience that and will be able to have a calm and effective conversation with you.

Long Term Relationship vs Short Term Gains

As a leader in an organisation, this will likely not be the last conversation you have with this co-worker. Rather than winning an argument, why not focus on winning a strong working relationship that can really go for the long haul? In times of difficulties, you will have a support network of co-workers who know you take the time to understand them, help them understand you and work collaboratively to achieve goals together. That is infinitely much more valuable in the long term for everyone.

Back to my client, he took the time to breathe and reflect. Indeed, she did do good work and while not perfect, has been working well with the team. She had always focused on the details but this was way more than normal. He realised she experienced some stress over a major change at work and she may have been reacting to that. He committed to talking to her, coming from a place of understanding and curiosity, rather than judgement. 

I also reminded him how he behaves towards her and how he handles the complains from her team mates can all be developmental opportunities for him and others. He got excited and now wants to share his learning with his team. He wanted to encourage them to understand each other’s’ communication style in order to develop them into a high performing team!

How about you? Where are you going to take this learning and how are you going to contribute to more effective communication in your workplace? Reach out to us at connect@boldly.app to speak to one of our qualified coaches.