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Listening with Curiosity

15 September 2020

Janie read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler and learned how helpful listening with curiosity can be when trying to understand another person’s point of view. 

Tags: communication, covid-19, crucial conversations, janie read

As we approach the final quarter of the year, I have been thinking about the importance of listening to each other and understanding other opinions and points of view. I think this is always an important skill, but now it seems even more critical than ever. These thoughts led me to pick up Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler during one of my recent trips to the office. If you’ve been following Allison Partners for a while, you know we recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a better communicator. I read it for the first time several years ago and decided that I could do with a refresh.

The book is filled with tools to improve your communication. One of the recommendations that really stuck with me was the idea of using curiosity to better understand someone else’s point of view. The authors shared that curiosity can be particularly helpful in times of high emotion, but only if you are sincere and are truly prepared to listen to what the other person has to say. They emphasized that “getting at the source of fear and discomfort is the best way to return to dialogue…this calls for genuine curiosity—at a time when you’re likely to be feeling frustrated or angry.” To help yourself stay curious and avoid overreacting or getting overcome by emotion, the authors recommend giving your brain something else to focus on. Ask yourself: “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person say this?”

I had the opportunity to practice using this question very recently. I was having a conversation with a family member who has different opinions than I do about the continued importance of wearing masks and social distancing. In the past, our conversations have led to nothing but frustration for both of us. This time, as I felt myself starting to feel annoyed, I paused and asked myself, “Why would a reasonable person say this?” Asking the question helped me redirect my attention away from the emotions I was feeling and helped me to stay calm. Not getting carried away by my emotions helped me refocus the conversation on why they feel so strongly, and this allowed us to talk, instead of our conversation ending in yelling. That has not always been true when we have tried to discuss delicate subjects in the past, so this felt like huge progress.

As we head into the fall with the pandemic continuing to limit our face-to-face interactions, I think really listening to each other and being curious is more important than ever before. Being curious about why a person thinks something or feels a certain way is the best way to try to understand their point of view and have a discussion that is a dialogue instead of an argument. For me, pausing to ask this question is a tool that I plan to use the next time I feel my emotions starting to take over my reason and logic. The next time you find yourself in a conversation with emotions running high, I hope thinking of this question will be helpful to you. 


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