Curiosity Killed the Assumption

Curiosity Killed Assumption

N.B. This is the third part of a series on having powerful conversations, where we discuss the element of curiosity. If you haven’t read them already, use these links to read part one on Validation & Part 2 on Permission.

How annoying are those people who finish your sentences? What assumptions do they constantly make about what is going on inside your head? Lots!

And they do this for good reason.

Firstly, the human brain learns by making assumptions – it lumps together similar information from all its sensory inputs, makes a map through connections and stores it for later use. To save energy, when new information comes into the brain it searches the archives and if there is a similar map to what it is experiencing, it will “assume” it is the same.

For example, we assume that people who drive a Mercedes Benz are wealthy, because other people we know who drive Mercedes are wealthy (and the advertisements also suggest the same!)

This is very useful in that it saves us from relearning behaviours and knowledge every time we need to use them, but it is often inaccurate because in the absence of facts, we simply fill in the gaps that make sense for us.

Basically, assumptions are a necessary evil – a cognitive shortcut that can cause us to respond to situations in ways that are not useful.

Enter the third step in powerful conversations – curiosity. I love this concept and spend significant time on it in my Rewired Conversations program.

When you are engaged in a challenging, emotionally charged or coaching style conversation, and you have Validated and asked Permission to engage in further conversation, it’s then time to get Curious.

Curiosity helps conversation in a number of ways. It offers the following:

  • Gets people talking, and hence engages them
  • Shows you are interested and builds trust
  • Provides you with context and information that will help you respond and support in more useful ways
  • Fills in the gaps and gets to the facts.

Curious questions that are powerful are the ones you ask that you don’t know the answer to, and preferably that the other person also has to think twice about.

Here are some examples of curious questions:

  • Tell me more…
  • How long has this been an issue for you?
  • Do you know what to do next?
  • How can I help you think this through?
  • What self-talk is going on inside your head?
  • What would happen if you did nothing?

Spend a week getting curious. My Golden Rule is to ask three questions before you give advice or counter someone’s suggestions or decision, and to be present when you make assumptions.

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