Sometimes in this big, busy world, it can feel like having all the right answers all the time is synonymous with workplace success. That’s all well and good, but to me, true success looks like having healthy, constructive relationships, showing up for yourself and others fully and often, and making an impact on not only your work, but on those around you.
I know what you’re thinking: Sure, Sarah. That sounds nice . . . but those are lofty goals, and I have no clue where to start.
To you, I say: True, those are lofty goals. Also true, our path to realizing them in our everyday lives can feel winding, but the starting place is relatively fixed: curiosity with ourselves. There is immense power and possibility in taking a look inward and being honest about what we see because once we understand both our strengths and our obstacles/blind spots, we can celebrate what’s working and take personal responsibility for addressing what’s not.
Let’s look at how to start:
The Curiosity-First Approach
Often, even with internal dialogue and investigation, we can get stuck on this idea that we have to have the “right words.” There are no right words that work every time we’re trying to self-reflect or navigate a conflict, etc. Why? Because our language is informed by our experiences, our relationships, the situation at hand . . . you name it. The language we might use with our families is different from the language we might use with our colleagues, for instance.
What is more universal, though, is the reason we recommend leading with curiosity. When it comes to navigating something unfamiliar or uncomfortable, we don’t always clarify why exactly we’re struggling. Especially as leaders and “fixers,” we can sometimes jump right to “solution mode” without unpacking how we arrived at the impasse in the first place. We also can neglect to get curious about others, leaving plenty of room for personal blind spots and a lack of awareness and accountability about the role we may have played. Compounded, and these can leave us approaching what could have been conversations as confrontations.
The antidote? Curiosity . . . beginning with ourselves.
Questions to Ask to Get Curious with Yourself
The next time you feel the heat starting to rise, I invite you to take a breath and look inward. Ask yourself:
- What am I feeling? (Hint: If it’s anger, keep digging. Anger is a secondary emotion, which means we feel it after we’ve felt something else first. The first feeling might be something like fear, disappointment, or shame.)
- What is important to me?
- What is my perspective?
- What need do I have that is not being met?
- What do I know to be true?
- What might I be missing?
- Is this a preference or a performance issue?
- What assumptions am I making?
- What role am I playing in this situation?
This exercise can be transformative, and I don’t use that word lightly. It can generate far-reaching insights—internally, interpersonally, and ultimately even from a systems perspective—that have the power to propel us forward.
Here are a few anonymous responses we’ve heard that have blown us away:
- “I haven’t always thought about what I want because I’m paying so much attention to what others want.”
- “I was more focused on my own hurt feelings rather than finding a resolution.”
- “I hadn’t realized how frustrated I was and how that was coloring my behavior.”
- “I may be holding people to different sets of expectations without realizing it.”
- “Previous experiences are impacting how I’ve been addressing this situation.”
- “I have deprioritized my own needs and mental health, and it’s showing up at work.”
- “I expect others to work and act like me.”
Getting curious with yourself is just the tip of the iceberg in the Curiosity-First approach. For more about the next step—how to get curious about and with others, read: The Power of Curiosity: Strategies for Promoting and Understanding Collaboration in the Workplace.
What came up for you as you approached the idea of getting curious with yourself? What felt like it was in your way, and what paths opened up as a result? I’d love to hear from you. That is, after all, why we’re here.
Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.