Navigate with Curiosity

I was recently interviewing Tony Bond on my podcast, and we were talking about how you can build meaningful connections and community. Tony is the Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Great Place to Work, the global research and analytics firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, among many others. When I asked him how he builds connections with others, he said, and I’m paraphrasing, that when we take the time to hear and be genuinely curious about another person’s story that a deep connection is created. That’s when I thought of an experience that I had once, and it has always stuck with me.

Many years ago, I was driving home during rush hour.  It was a particularly bad rush hour.  It was a rainy Friday night and apparently, every person on the planet was trying to go where I was going – and we were all taking the same exit ramp. Traffic was trying to merge from two lanes down to one.  I could feel the stress building.  Then, a large SUV passed me on the shoulder to my right.  I instantly thought of a number of things I wanted to shout at the driver who I was certain was arrogant, nasty and mean.  I looked over to see who this villain was and to perhaps share with them my displeasure.  What I saw, however, was not a nasty person but a woman who was sobbing. It was then that I realized what was at the end of that exit ramp:  a hospital.  I will never know for sure if she was trying to get to that hospital to see a loved one or what the source of her pain was but, in that instant, my heart went out to her.  I stopped seeing her as nameless and faceless, but I saw her as a person.  A person likely with cares and worries and a story.

It makes me wonder if many of us live our lives that way?  We exist within the box that surrounds us and we don’t take the time to really see the other person; we simply see the box that surrounds them.  And, probably more often than not, we make our judgments based upon that outer box we see.  This is where a mindset of curiosity comes in:  when we look at the world around us and the people around us without judgment but with a sense of wonder and interest.  In coaching, there is a principle that says to navigate the conversation with curiosity.  The power of that is that we cannot be curious and judgmental at the same time. When we can set aside whatever judgment that we might carry into a situation, we are opening ourselves up to a place of learning and understanding.