So many of our interactions at work and in the world are rote. From the mechanical “How are you?” to the way we glaze over as the weekly sales goals are reviewed every Friday, many of us have lost our sense of curiosity about one another and the work we’re doing. Sure, you can tell yourself you already know how that meeting is going to go or how he’s going to respond to your new idea, or whether she’ll be interested in your project, but what’s the fun in that?

Practicing curiosity can keep your mind fresh and alert, fill up your creativity tank, and make space for possibilities you didn’t even consider before they showed up. So many discoveries are made when we stay open. Give the tips below a try and let me know how they go!

Ask Thoughtful, Open-Ended Questions

The way we ask questions can cause others to become immediately defensive, quickly deliver the most basic response, or unfold a bit and give us their real insights. Imagine we’ve just finished a huge project. As with most things, our team stumbled in a few places but we recovered and delivered on time and to specifications. We can jump into the next project or we can press pause and assess our work. Of course I recommend the debrief.

Rather than asking what went wrong and what went right, try asking what was surprising and what was affirming. These two options allow for a less linear approach that are far more generative. Chances are anyone on the team can list out what went wrong: the vendor missed a delivery deadline, the client changed the color scheme half way through, and your lead designer came down with the flu. They can also tell you what went right: you delivered the project as promised. But when you ask about surprises and affirmations, you’ll hear so much more about how your team works together, hidden talents that were revealed, and new processes. You are opening the door to a more innovative and exploratory conversation. The curiosity you bring to this exercise demonstrates your support for your team’s flexibility of thinking and your openness to new ideas.

Fully Listen

Really listening requires time and space we don’t always have. Most of us will need to intentionally create the environment for truly curious listening. Turning off phones, closing a door, and other calming cues can help set the stage for a conversation in which you can truly listen. You may consider going the opposite route and taking a walk or a long drive. Often the parallel focus on a shared goal that uses a different part of your brain can help you to connect and focus in a whole different way.

In whatever way you create the space, be sure to avoid the perception of an inquisition. This shouldn’t be a rapid-fire question and answer session. It should be an exploration of the thoughts and insights of the person with whom you’re speaking. Deep listening can be easier when you have a list of questions that will help you stay the course. A few to keep in mind: “Tell me more about that,” “What was that like for you,” “What made you think of that,” and “How did you make that connection?”

Go Mind Tripping

If you’re really listening with curiosity, you’ll be able to acknowledge – and quiet – that fierce editor in your head that tells you this idea will never work, we don’t have the budget for that, and this is a huge pipe dream. If you allow yourself the curiosity to go down the path in front of you, you may discover a whole new approach to a problem. It’s worthwhile from time to time to ask the really big, thorny questions about your work and life that feel insurmountable. Allow yourself the time and space to play with idea of hiring 10 more staffers or outsourcing or selling the whole darn company. Mind tripping with purpose can deliver all sorts of insights you won’t find in your inbox.

Curiosity can inspire us and deliver a world of experience we never knew we wanted. Give yourself the time to wonder and provide the same gift to those in your sphere. You’ll all be better for it.

Talk to you next week!

Amber D. Nelson