I often tell my clients that the state of mind they want when negotiating or navigating conflict is curiosity, not certainty. If you can manage to be curious when things get tough, that curiosity will be your best friend.
Certainty may be ego-soothing, but it closes us off to information, closes us down to other ways of understanding what’s happening, and contributes to the kind of negotiation tug-of-war that keeps things good and stuck.
Curiosity is better. It’s the mode that opens us to discovery. The mode that helps us not miss information we could use to solve the problem. The mode that helps us be more creative in our solutions.
Today I’m teaching my sold-out workshop, The Art of Inquiry. We’ll be discussing the artful use of good questions to get conflict and negotiations unstuck. And I’ll be starting that conversation with consideration of a good question’s key companion: Curiosity.
I know I will be asked this today: How do you get into a state of curiosity when you’re stuck in a state of certainty that’s elusive to shake off? How is it possible to be curious when you don’t feel like it? I have two sets of suggestions, depending on where you’re standing when you’re trying to call forth your curious self.
Be curious outside of conflict
It seems to me that if you don’t cultivate your curiosity , it’s harder to do it when you’re in a tense state of mind. Here are several favorite ways to cultivate curiosity daily.
- Try something new every day. Even if it’s something small. Try a different dish at your favorite restaurant. Try a different coffee beverage at Starbucks. Put salsa instead of ketchup on your fries.
- Break up your routine. Take a different route to work. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
- Notice one new thing. On my morning run I like to notice one thing I haven’t noticed before. Maybe one house has a new stone wall out front. Maybe another has a sculpture in the side yard.
- Teach yourself something new. Open the dictionary randomly and point to a word, then use that word 5 times that day. Or go bigger with a workshop or a new hobby instruction manual.
Be curious during conflict
In the heat of the moment you may have to play some games with your mind to push yourself into being curious. I’ve had good success teaching clients these simple ways to be curious in the moment:
- Change where you’re sitting. Really. Get up, trade seats. The movement and the new orientation may help you be open to new information.
- Go for a walk. Forward movement and the ultimate high ceiling (the sky) can ease you out of a stuck state.
- Shut up. It’s hard to be curious when you’re doing most of the talking. Let your ears do some of the work and give yourself permission not to respond to everything you think deserves your commentary.
- Get into their movie. Allow yourself the freedom to suspend your disbelief for a short while. You can always un-suspend it later…but in the interim, you might notice something you missed before.
- Write a reminder on your palm. Once, when going into a situation I knew would test my very soul, I wrote “beginner’s mind” on my palm so I could glance at the reminder periodically. It helped me to have it there.
What are your favorite ways to bring yourself back into a state of curiosity even when you don’t feel like it?