Rekindling our childlike curiosity and mastering active listening skills is a necessity in today's professional world. We need to ditch our egos at the door, don our thinking caps, and rediscover the joy of asking 'why?'
This article was first published in Khaleej Times.
Remember how, as a child, you would incessantly ask "why"? Every question ignited another, building a curiosity chain powered by pure joy of discovery. As we grow older, we tend to stow away this childlike curiosity, especially in a professional setting. Asking too many questions might expose our ignorance, or worse, create an uncomfortable situation, we fear. But picture a workplace that embraced this latent curiosity. It could be transformative.
Leaders are often lauded for their strategic acumen and groundbreaking ideas. But what anchors this grand vision is their knack for asking questions. They realise that curiosity drives innovation, knowledge, and growth. But here's the kicker - this superpower isn't exclusive to leaders. Regardless of your position or role, nurturing your questioning skills and practising empathetic listening can give your career a significant leg-up. As adults, our questions are often born out of ego, with the intent to win an argument, or to flaunt our knowledge. We hear, not to understand, but to respond.
The truth is, genuine questioning isn't about cornering others or ego gratification. It springs from a place of sincere curiosity and a thirst for learning – quite akin to the relentless "why's" of a child. However, it's important to find balance in this approach. An overemphasis on questioning can inadvertently veer into the territory of avoidable inquisition, leading to defensiveness and withdrawal which can exhaust the listener, stifle progress and contribute to decision paralysis. The key lies in posing pertinent, timely questions that encourage dialogue, rather than overwhelm.
And the best way to do that is to listen with an open mind. Michael Marquardt, the author of “Leading With Questions,” writes that 'often, we don’t ask the right questions, or we don’t ask questions in a way that will lead to honest and informative answers.' He continues, 'Many of us don’t know how to listen effectively to the answers to the questions – and haven’t established a climate in which asking questions is encouraged.
In the chaotic, and often ego-driven corporate world, active empathetic listening is a rare skill. It necessitates complete attention to the speaker, understanding their emotions, and reflecting them back sans judgement. It's about setting aside our biases and preconceived responses. Our focus should be entirely on the speaker's narrative and feelings. This skill demands practice, and our younger selves provide the perfect role model.
So, what could be the outcome of integrating this culture of questioning and empathetic listening into our workplaces? It begins by cultivating a conducive environment for idea sharing, encouraging empathy, and promoting mutual respect. It's much like transplanting the lively collaborative energy of a kindergarten class into a corporate setting. In his book, "Leading Quietly," Joseph Badaracco contends it's not the grand, highly visible deeds of top-tier leaders that keep the world spinning. Instead, he places the spotlight on the multitude of modest but significant choices made by those working outside the glare of public recognition - individuals he terms as 'quiet leaders.' Visionary leaders recognize this truth, harnessing their ability to ask incisive questions to cultivate an environment where these unsung heroes feel empowered to articulate their thoughts.
When every member of the organisation, from the fresh recruits to the top brass, feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and posing questions, it demonstrates active contribution towards the company's goals. This culture of openness and involvement not only boosts productivity but also nurtures a sense of camaraderie among employees. Encouraging employees to propose innovative ideas can trigger out-of-the-box solutions, steering the organisation towards new directions. Wasn't it a curious mind that once asked, "What if we could fly?", ultimately leading to the invention of the aeroplane?
Such an organisation turns into a breeding ground for future leaders. The ones who aren't hesitant to voice their thoughts, even if they disrupt the normal flow, are the ones driving the organisation towards its future. Importantly, this inquisitiveness fosters transparency and trust, cornerstones for any successful organisation. When employees feel free to ask questions, it facilitates open conversations, gradually building trust among team members and boosting morale and productivity.
Rekindling our childlike curiosity and mastering active listening skills is a necessity in today's professional world. We need to ditch our egos at the door, don our thinking caps, and rediscover the joy of asking "why?". A listening mindset that aims to understand rather than respond can bring about significant shifts in the workplace. If the art of questioning isn't second nature to you, don’t view it as a setback. Consider it an opportunity to embark on an enriching learning journey. You're not just cultivating a skill, but nurturing a heightened emotional intelligence, a fundamental element of effective conversations. This will serve you not only in your career but also in fostering meaningful interpersonal relationships.
So, embrace this journey willingly and tap into your inner child to become a better questioner. You might be in for a surprise!