By Cecilia Calderón – September 2020
With so many workplace stresses, demands, and processes, we can sometimes go into autopilot mode while trying to solve challenges and move forward. This doesn’t necessarily serve all situations well. In this article, Cecilia explains how being more mindful and inquisitive can be effective for you and your teams. It requires a willingness to explore, and a commitment to go deeper and encourage curiosity.
Last month my colleague Jon Patton shared how to utilize our strengths to overcome difficult times. It felt quite relevant and helpful. Today I want to share another tool/practice that can help us navigate these difficult times, and at the same time, move out of negative patterns. Practicing this tool can help us build resilience and mental agility to continue leading effectively. It also allows us to stay healthy, physically and emotionally, in the process.
That is a tall order, right? And not easy to do in the vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we live in today. In times like these, the tendency for many of us is to control the heck out of everything. When we are in a controlling mode, our perfectionism rises to crazy levels, our patience meter is at its lowest, and we can get triggered quicker. Our defense mechanisms are working overtime, and the stress hormone cortisol is flowing freely in our bodies.
Just writing this connects me to the feelings described and makes me want to run away from them. Yes, running away from our emotions and pretending they are not happening is something we often do in times of stress. We numb, resist, and get busy. When we are busy “doing”, we cannot pay attention to our emotions and how we are feeling. Denying our emotions or numbing them does not make them go away. On the contrary, they stay within and predispose us to put our shields up with the expected outcomes and impacts on ourselves and others. This often makes situations worse.
The good news is that we actually have a choice. A choice to do something different.
The tool I want to share with you and the practice I invite you to engage in is curiosity.
How can you leverage Curiosity?
Curiosity is an emotion, and a powerful tool and practice. Emotions carry messages and propel us to certain actions. Curiosity drives us to want to discover something, to find why something is, why something happens, or how to do something better.
What if instead of doing what we usually do when triggered by emotion, we ask ourselves some questions? In answering these questions, we interrupt those patterns that take so much out of our game. We need to open a line of inquiry into what is going on and why.
For example, in an internal inquiry you could ask:
- Why am I so angry?
- Why do I step back and shrink?
- Why do I react so strongly?
- What triggered me?
- What is under the surface that may have triggered my response?
- Why do I always get triggered by this?
- Why is anger the 1st place I go when triggered?
- Could there be another way to see this?
- Could I tell myself a different story?
- What if the other person is doing absolutely the best they can?
Examples of potential inquiry to others, in meetings and when teams are stuck:
- What are we trying to solve?
- What may be happening here that we may not be seeing?
- It seems we are stuck…. How do we get unstuck?
- I am curious about…
- Tell me more…
- Help me understand….
- What story are we telling ourselves?
- Looks like you are really committed to this path/idea/solution, tell me more about your enthusiasm for this.
- What are our/your assumptions?
We have an under-utilized, incredible and absolutely fantastic ability to watch our thinking, to notice the feelings we are experiencing. Let’s use this ability. The moment we “go to the balcony” and observe our thoughts and emotions, we interrupt the pattern.
Inviting curiosity is a choice; it is a decision. When we are willing to explore our internal world, we are more likely to respond effectively than to react out on autopilot. We make choices based on what matters to us and what connects us to our bigger self. When we do not explore, observe and question our emotions, thoughts and actions we see everything as facts, as the way ‘things are’. This leaves us with no room to move and we end up responding out of habit.
Who is in charge? The thinker or the thought? ~ Susan David
By being curious about our emotions, thoughts and behavioral patterns, we call the shots instead of emotions and thoughts calling them.
The short journey to answer these questions can offer new ways of interpreting the events, to change the story we tell ourselves about what just happened. It can provide deeper understanding of why we engage in particular thoughts and patterns when we are triggered.
Being curious can allow us to let go of the need to be right, the need to be seen in a particular way and focus on how to bring our effectiveness to the next level.
Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. ~ Glennon Doyle
If we explain, justify and defend our weaknesses, failings and ineffective behavior patterns, we get to keep them. In addition to the benefits mentioned, a byproduct of practicing curiosity is that it is correlated with creativity, innovation, improved learning memory and problem solving. Let’s get curious!