Why Curiosity Is Critical to Building Relationships

March 22, 2017

Why Curiosity Is Critical to Building Relationships

We all know curiosity is what leads scientists to make discoveries that alter lives, and entrepreneurs to innovate to tap new markets. Most organizations facing an increasingly competitive marketplace are focused on hiring curious leaders to tackle the challenge of identifying opportunities for creating new “blue ocean strategies.”1 These leaders demonstrate curiosity at a far deeper level than others, and it is manifested through persistent questioning of the status quo and by challenging deeply held beliefs and assumptions. They seek to intimately understand the consumer to uncover an unmet need they can address to achieve a strategic advantage over their competitors. Curiosity is what drives them to inquire, hypothesize, and test new ideas. It is such an innate skill they don’t understand how to operate any differently when solving business problems.

As an executive coach, I am curious why the same level of curiosity used in solving business problems isn’t used in building relationships with peers, bosses, and team members. Ultimately, the success of any innovation effort requires the effective utilization of influence. To influence and manifest the results desired, an important skill is the ability to use curiosity to learn more about the interests, concerns, and positions of others.

The success of any innovation effort requires the effective utilization of influence.

So how do you develop or encourage curiosity in interpersonal relationships? You develop inquiry skills, mindfulness, and critical thinking.

1. Challenge leaders to learn, through inquiry, as much as they can about stakeholder’s interests, concerns, and positions before advocating for their ideas. Help them be curious and master the art of asking open ended, powerful questions and probing to deepen their understanding. Acknowledge and validate a leader’s effective use of inquiry and curiosity based exchanges and provide constructive feedback when the leader becomes entrenched in idea/self- promotion without displays of curiosity. Make the case that leading with inquiry will increase and not diminish a leader’s power. Similar to generals on the battlefield, leaders need to know as much about their adversaries and allies as possible before making tactical choices that may leave them vulnerable and at a disadvantage.

Here are some questions to help practice inquiry:

  • What’s my goal for this relationship and interaction? What do I hope to have as an outcome?
  • What questions might I ask to learn his/her interests, concerns and position?
  • What should l listen for and watch for in the responses?

2. Inspire mindfulness and introspective practices of engaging the head, heart, and gut when making decisions that impact relationships. For those who lead with the heart, help them leverage logic and analytical skills to ascertain what’s at stake in the relationship and what alternative futures could look like given different courses of action. For leaders who only approaches situations from a standpoint of logic, empower them to tap into their empathy to increase their potential for compassion and appreciation of others.

Examples of questions to inspire mindfulness:

  • What thoughts do I have about this situation? What am I feeling about this situation? 
  • How are my thoughts and feelings driving the actions I am looking to take?
  • How would I feel if I were to open this conversation up to other possibilities?
  • What does my gut tell me about this situation?

3. Reinforce critical thinking, a crucial practice of curiosity, to identify alternative perspectives of an issue. Identify what they know is fact, what they assume to be true, but lack compelling evidence to support, and what gaps in their knowledge are clear. A curious leader can then engage in a conversation with others recognizing what they know, don’t know, and need to learn to advocate for a point of view.

Examples of questions to promote critical thinking:

  • What do I know about this situation, that is supported by evidence?
  • What assumptions have I made? What could be an alternative way of looking at the situation?
  • What don’t I know?
  • What factors, beyond anyone’s direct control, may impact this situation?
  • What elements of this situation do I own and have accountability for?
  • How does addressing this situation relate to my larger purpose and goals? Will tackling it help or hinder my chances of achieving success?

Through inquiry, mindfulness, and critical thinking leaders will be able to leverage their curiosity to more effectively see new paths forward with team members, bosses, and peers to achieve the greatest results. If you can promote curiosity in your organization, you will be able to tap into limitless opportunities.



1Blue Ocean Strategy was developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne and suggests sustainable success comes, not from battling competitors in the “red ocean”, but from creating blue oceans of untapped new market spaces ripe for growth. blueoceanstrategy.com


The Authors: 

Sharon Margules is a leadership development consultant and executive coach with over 20 years in talent development. She works with founders who are exploring the changes they need to make to keep pace with their “scaling” organizations. She can be reached at sharon@margulesleadershipconsulting.com.