My older sister said something about my pragmatism the other day. Any time someone calls me pragmatic, I start blushing and getting giddy. Call me pretty and I roll my eyes. Call me pragmatic and the cockles of my heart are liable to burst into flame, they get so warm.
I had to look it up, by the way. A idiomatic statement probably referring to the way mollusks open up in the warming-up part of getting cooked. Cheerful.
Digression aside, I’ve been running into this curiosity vs. judgement dichotomy a lot recently. Every time it comes up, I have to side with curiosity as being the more helpful, pragmatic approach.
A work example. My current boss is in my top three favorite bosses ever. She’s smart, she’s strategic, and she’s canny. My favorite kind of lady. We have an intern. A smart kid from Chicago with a broad mid-western accent and no experience with office politics. Somehow I thought high school should be the only introduction you need to this game, but it seems that I was wrong. So Boss Lady asks Intern to do a powerpoint presentation on a process mapping project. Intern has owned the project from beginning to end, so Intern has a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. Boss Lady as well. But Intern decided that doing a PowerPoint was stupid. Technically, it’s kind of a step backwards in presenting the information – the Intern does have a point.
However, instead of bringing curiosity to the table and interrogating the reasons why this request might be made, Intern decided that it fit into the Crazy Boss Lady narrative that is running around the office, piled that onto the “this is stupid” reaction, and the resulting presentation 100% reflects exactly what she thinks of it. Intern came to a conclusion before she invested any curiosity in the situation.
Well, what do we know? This is a conservative organization full of people that have technology phobias. It’s only in the past five years that they’ve gotten on board with PowerPoint as a tool for communication. So if you bring them a project in a format that is technically intimidating, might it be true that you’re already setting them up to be resistant to the idea you’re trying to sell them on? Maybe they’ll be more receptive to the idea if they don’t also have to brave a new interface to get to the idea… Maybe if they buy the idea first, then the technology to implement the idea won’t be such a hard sell.
For context, I don’t know the first thing about the project. I don’t know what Boss Lady’s intentions were. I don’t know who it has to be sold to, or what these people have to do with it once they buy. The situation is an example, not the point. The point is that a conclusion with out curiosity sets you up for an epic fail.
It works interpersonally. It’s just easier on the people you care about if you can approach them with curiosity instead of conclusions. A friend, post argument with their significant other, doesn’t need you to jump in and tell them what a schmuck the guy is and how you always knew that he wasn’t good enough for her, and you’re glad he showed his true colors, and, and, and. Not helpful. Try curiosity. How does this fight fit in with how you relate in general? What’s going on that might have compounded this issue?
I guess there’s something deeper here, and it starts with your assumptions. It’s easier to be curious if you assume that people have reasons for what they do. That there’s context, stuff that you don’t know about, inciting events that you weren’t there for, perspectives that you haven’t considered. If you assume your information is complete and infallible, then curiosity isn’t required.
So if you’re there and your knowledge is complete and your conclusions are defensible and absolute, I suggest faking it. If for no other reason than pragmatism. You still have to get along with the people you care about. If you appreciate being approached with gentle curiosity vs. absolute conclusions, then handing it out isn’t a bad place to start. Also, they’ll think better of you if you aren’t stomping on their stories with your conclusions.
Finally, this curiosity > conclusions construct might be most helpful when applied to your relationship with yourself. Instead of condemning yourself for failures, flaws, and foibles real and percieved, what if you sat with them and asked questions? Where did you come from? What purpose are you serving? Where did I see you before? How are you protecting me? How did you get here?
In a book called Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work, the authors describe pain management achieved, not by running away or screaming or condeming the pain, but by sitting still and asking it questions. How big is it? What color is it? What shape is it? And by working through the questions a major burn went from excruciating to manageable.
Asking the questions and allowing the answers may not be as fast of a process as immediately jumping to a conclusion. But the results are better for sure.