Curiouser and Curiouser, Part II – Arousing Your Curiosity to Find Radical Understanding

Curiosity does more than lead to massive innovations in our quest for prosperity, even survival. It tunes our senses to gather the information we need. In the question of Influence, for example, we presuppose that the other party doesn’t yet agree with us. And maybe that’s true. So how do we respond?

Some people become frustrated as their rigid understanding of what’s best is intolerant of other possibilities. If you’re autocratic, solely in charge, then maybe that will work alright for you. More often, however, we must interact with others, engage in discussion, even debate, as we try to forge compromise, negotiate a path forward. When this happens, merely butting heads, each insisting you are “right,” is unlikely to get you anywhere. Many generations ago, sheer force of will was not only enough to win, but was also tolerated in the workplace or in most areas where humans interact.

It’s rare to find such a situation today, where your simply being stronger or louder is enough to win–to power your way through, rather than influence others to choose your way.

Because of this, persuasion, influence, become crucial survival skills. Having the technical ability to do your job, whatever that may be, is no longer enough. So that “head-butting” approach, where two of you notice that you disagree on what to do next, becomes a real challenge. Hopefully not often for you, but it does happen, doesn’t it? So in some fashion, discussion needs to include rhetoric, a compelling argument that persuades the others in that situation.

So far, nothing too surprising, right? Now here it comes. While Influence like this requires a number of things, one of the most often overlooked is a tremendous degree of curiosity. If this were the time of two opponents jousting, dueling, fistfighting, toughness and an indomitable will might be sufficient to change the other person’s mind. Or at least knock them out.

Now, we need to figure them out, understand them. I call the goal at this early stage, the pursuit of Radical Understanding. This involves listening fully to what the other person says–how they arrived at the conclusion they have. How their logic works. And once they feel they’re being truly heard, which of course is in your own best interest as that’s one way you’re gaining the necessary information, they tend to become confident and share their process.

Without your curiosity, this never would have happened, though if somehow it had, you’d be disinterested and would overlook this crucial intelligence. You need to entice the other person to communicate their rationale fully as you need to know what it is, though you also need to know how they construct it. That subjectivity is their own world and as you learn to enter, site-see, learn about it, you can then begin influencing it.

None of that happens if you aren’t curious.

As you approach the other person with curiosity, they’ll often sense it, which makes this even easier. You want to learn everything about that subjective playing-field in their mind as that’s how you’ll influence them. Be curious. Find that you’re not satisfied with “just because—” as there is always something more to it. As you begin to open that up and explore their subjectivity, you will understand not only their logic, but how they make decisions–information you can use going forward with them.

Consider a scenario where you and a coworker have found an impasse. You want to do things one way, they another, and you’ve argued back and forth, and as you have equal authority, no one is winning. As power from authority may be common in your company, you both approach a supervisor to make the call–but they say something like, “I hired you both because you’re good at what you do. I leave it in your capable hands to figure out.”

Now what?

You could negotiate up until that stalemate, and now, you’re simply butting heads, determined to get your way.

Power through authority or force may have limited applications in the workplace, but–

Influence never goes out of style.

Your first task is to overcome your own frustration and mental blocks. When we’re “locked in” to a position, arguing, curiosity may be the last thing that occurs to us.

But that’s exactly what we need.

The truly powerful people will then say things to themselves like, “I wonder what makes him feel that way,” “How does he put that logic together in his mind?” Or, “What is the foundational idea or belief that he’s basing all that upon? Could I disrupt that in some way, or even better, leverage it to make my own point?” And one I love, and got from workshop attendees in 2019, “I wonder what would make him prefer my way instead of this one he currently has chosen!”

As you feel your attitude shift from anger or frustration to genuine curiosity, you can feel the closed minds begin to open. Questions reopen the discussion which got closed by blanket, firm statements.

For this to work, by the way, it’s vital that your curiosity, and how you express it, come across as genuine. You are opening up an entrenched mind (two, actually, including your own), and asking, “Really? How does that work?” or “How did you arrive at that?” can be done with the kind of sincerity that conveys genuine interest. Those things could also be asked with sarcasm, of course, which is merely aggression with a more insulting tone.

Sarcasm won’t help you in this situation, so approach with serious curiosity, real interest, and a desire to understand. There are several layers of invisible communication taking place as well, so there’s a lot to discover.

Open the closed minds with your questions, driven by your curiosity, then rather than trying to push a boulder, persuading a person who’s already made up their mind, you are coaxing a wave toward the shore, something natural, easy, and comfortable.

And influential.

Copyright © 2022 Chris Gingolph

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