The gift of curiosity.

September 23, 2016


We all have our own google and it’s called the humble question and when you ask someone a question you tell them immediately that you are interested in them which builds trust.

Asking good questions also gives you control and allows you to gently but deliberately direct a conversation and it promotes the swapping of stuff between people. Stuff like common experiences or feelings or simple things like talking about your kids. These exchanges oil a conversation and help us sit back in our chairs a little and relax while we talk and connect. You cannot rush connection.

Asking questions also improves immediately your relationship with someone because you are listening to them rather than spraying them with words.  Many of us have forgotten how to listen.

Get your head out of your devices and talk to people

We all start as kids with a tank full of questions (a couple of hundred a day for 3-4 year olds) and then we are de-programmed and closed down by adults who tell us to be quiet and to stop asking questions. We are told to stop using the most important word in the English language – WHY.

Curiosity is our greatest tool and to shut it down seems to be a waste of a wonderful, free gift.

Why else is curiosity so important?

For a start it is the “key to providing the best customer service” says Brian Grazer. All organisational improvement should start with asking the customer, good focused questions.

Brian was born curious and full of questions. His approach in life is “if I am interested in someone or something I will go and find them so I can ask them lots of questions about what they do or how they got to where they now are. It is only by asking people who have succeeded in a profession what got you to here, can we all grow and improve because what got us to here usually won’t get us to there so we need to ask focused questions to find out what it is people did to move their career or their life along

Grazer also said in his book A Curious Mind that “curiosity gives you courage and control”. We all need courage.

Why not make curiosity a habit and collect new questions.

I collect questions like other people collect music; I collect them in cafes and in airport lounges and in taxis and Uber cars and often from television shows or from radio programs. Free good questions are everywhere and I write them in little books that I carry around or on the backs of scraps of paper.

Curiosity is also the key to improvement. Personal improvement career improvement or friendship improvement because the thing is we all have two types of friends. The type A friend who are interested genuinely in us and our lives and when you meet them they sit back and ask you questions and really want to hear your answers and the type B friend who simply wants to use you as an empty vessel for them to fill up with words about their very important and busy life.  Ring a bell?

Note to category B friends you are transparently self-focused and your lack of questions gives you away.

Professionally anyone whose career has stalled will almost certainly have stopped asking questions – usually because they think they have most of the answers. Note to self, none of us ever have all the answers.

But here’s the thing – being curious can also be free entertainment. Everyone has a story. Everyone has interesting stuff locked away and we are often poor judges of our own stories. We doubt that our stories are interesting so we keep them hidden and locked away. We are usually wrong.

And for me it’s often the quiet introverted people who have the best stories to tell. An introvert is only a good question away from being an extrovert.

Why not FLIP your day upside down and Instead of talking all day why not program listening sessions with team members.  If you are a young person hungry to learn why not contact people you admire and go and ask them lots of questions. Successful people love talking about themselves just like the rest of us. One important point to make here. Don’t waste the opportunity by not having enough good questions written down before a meeting.

For me beginning a new conversation is like the take-off on a flight. The engines push you back into the chair and the pilot hits the throttle and then you are off.

I also often use questions to channel energy or to take back control in a negotiation. I use it also to calm down and put my anger back in the box.

 “Curiosity is a technique and an instinct.”

Curiosity is free and powerful and unlimited in its ability to fertilise a conversation which is why I am surprised by how many people and particularly young people are afraid of asking questions. Maybe we should have subjects at school called curiosity

Questions are like WD40, and they loosen rusted or hidden thoughts and allow ideas and feelings to be liberated and set free.

All successful people are curious

I got out of bed and collapsed one night recently and I was taken to hospital. I was examined by doctors and nurses and tested and prodded and because they could find no cause they ambulanced me to a bigger hospital where more doctors and more nurses tested, prodded de-blooded and questioned me for an entire day. Still no answers.

They made me stay the night and get around in one of those weird white hospital gowns that never fully close over your bum so one or both cheeks hang out.

Why is it by the way that we are made to look so silly in hospital?

The next morning a smooth young doctor came to see me.

Good shoes, 3 day growth, Egyptian cotton shirt.

He nodded on entering my room, read my charts and asked two simple questions.

“Did you feel yourself falling before you passed out or did you go instantly unconscious from a great height?”

I answered the former.

“Do you want to go home?” Was his second and final question.

I had been asked hundreds of questions in the preceding 30 hours, but not this specific question.

It meant in short that I was ok and I could go home. I know this because I then asked him a series of questions.

Great sales people, doctors, interviewers and scientists are all good at asking great questions. Questions that open up conversations and questions that yield the right answers.

Knowing exactly what to ask is a special skill.

Being able to ask questions of people who then feel safe to reply honestly and openly is a gift. You can learn it and you can get better at it, but it will not happen unless the person you are questioning trusts you deeply. Trust is the core of all conversations and connection. I am not sure that trust can be taught.

But everyone’s favourite subject is themselves so when all else fails – when you meet a pretty girl or a handsome man or when you are trying to win a new client – just ask them about themselves and sit back and listen. Don’t hurry –just ask and wait.

Let silence do the heavy lifting and let others do the talking. This is your best shot at building real trust.

One final note: In decades of asking questions I cannot remember anyone, anytime saying no to a question I have asked – EVER and I have asked a lot of questions to a lot of people.

Chris Hanley

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