How can I be curious if I think I already know the answer

I heard a very impactful quote recently, and I had an epiphany moment a.k.a an aha or doh! moment, depending upon your influences. I am animation averse, so I had a aha.

Anyway, the quote is from Colette Baron-Reid. “We can’t be curious, if we think we already know.”

I know, right?

It’s so true. If we think we already know the thing – the answer, the outcome, the biases, the  whatever – then we are only looking for proof of our foregone conclusion. It’s all cognitive bias. It’s impossible to be truly curious. The definition of curious is to be eager to learn something – which implies that wedon’t already know the thing.

Just think about how different you are when you lead with curiosity. You’re eager. You ask questions, you listen intently because you’re hanging on every word that’s going to satisfy your curiosity. And you follow up with more questions as your brain starts making new connections, thinking through implications. What does this mean? How does it change my understanding of things.

Curiosity opens doors.

Now think about how you are when you think you already know. In addition to looking for evidence that proves you’re right, you’re also looking for opportunities to show that you’re already right. You’re not listening to learn, you’re listening for an opening to speak (even if it’s inside your own head: “aha! I was right!”) The only questions you ask are leading ones. And by you, I mean we/me.

It doesn’t mean that the truth can’t get in anyway, but it is harder. Maybe the door is locked, but the cat door is open, and it’s a pretty tight squeeze to get through, you know?

So the wisdom from this quote does tie to the topic of difficult conversations from last week. It’s pretty hard to have a conversation if we’re not at least a little bit curious, isn’t it? A conversation without curiosity is really just a couple of monologues, which are not going to get us very far toward a positive outcome in a difficult conversation.

By the way, I believe that this applies to the difficult conversations we have with ourselves. If we go in thinking that we already know what’s up, we’re never going to learn anything new and we’re never really going to be able to make any changes.

Back to the door – it doesn’t have to be wide open. We can open the door by being open to the possibility that we don’t already know. “I think I know, but I’m open to the possibility that I don’t know” is a pretty decent start. I can hear the door creaking open a little bit even now. And being wrong can be downright wonderful.

As leaders, we often think that we have to have all the answers. We don’t want to be surprised. We think we’re bad leaders if we don’t already know. Good leaders are prepared. But great leaders? They are also open, curious and eager to listen.

Curiosity may just be the magic key (lockpick?) that opens many doors.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!


p.s. I think that every color has a relationship to curiosity, but the ones I want to call out here are green, yellow, pink and turquoise. Green represents the openness and expansiveness that curiosity requires. Yellow represents the optimism that curiosity inspires. Pink represents the compassion and empathy that curiosity creates. Turquoise represents the playfulness and creativity that are the cousins of curiosity.

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