Curiosity as a Navigational Device

One of the best ways to stay stuck, to be fussy, and to feel frustrated is to see life as a problem to be solved. An either/or or a right/wrong paradigm of perspective is quite limiting, and it guarantees stress. Unfortunately, many of us were raised to search for the one right way to answer a question, or the only way to address–excuse me– to solve a situation.

The ability to judge, to discern, to assess and to conclude are all essential qualities and they are important for adults to possess. However, maybe it is time to give some thought to how we think!

As they lament about their workplace struggles, some of my coaching clients have heard me observe, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!” These good folks want to assist their colleagues and their direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. However, they are met with resistance, with defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.

Rather than as problems to be solved, what is another way to look at the issues and challenges at work, at home, and in life?

One of the best ways to extricate oneself from this dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong” is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. When you resist the impulse to fix, you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness. When you address the issue (remember: address it, don’t fix it!) you can employ new language, too.

Some suggested new phrases for your curiosity lexicon include:
• “hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting!”
• “What do you think?”
• “What else is important to consider?”
• “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
• “Who else could help us address this?”
• “What should we be sure NOT to do?”

Trying to NOT fix things might be hard (or it might feel like a relief!). You may fear your value to your workplace may evaporate, especially if you have defined yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are YOU, and being a problem solver is but a skill, not an identity. Additionally, “problem-solvers” can carry the additional reputation as “know-it-all” or “ridged,” so that identity could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized.

2 thoughts on “Curiosity as a Navigational Device

  1. Great insight I find myself particularly at home trying to be a problem solver and I think it does keep me one dimensional. I tend to see a lot of problems and don’t collaborate enough to garner true engagement.

  2. Abraham Maslow in 1966 said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Now, try to consider giving it to a child and he will find that everything needs a pounding according to Abraham Kaplan. When I am still working as an employee from one of my earlier stint as a young programmer/instructor, my being proactive and having an earnest desire to help other people was construed as a form of an aggressive behavior. Here I was ready to roll up my sleeves, try to solve problems and get down to work but I realized it’s not just about having good intentions. When you are hoping for a black and white response and all you get are all shade-of-grey response, you are in deep trouble if you don’t look at the bigger picture. You need to have tools other than just a hammer. Leadership like life has multidimensional features… and experience has taught me that collaboration is indeed all about communication with the right tools. Adding those phrases to our curiosity lexicon will definitely not allow curiosity to kill the cat….

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