Habit for Compassion: Communicate with Curiosity

Part 1: Introduction

Curious people have a very different communication style. I practice it daily. I’m better at using it when I’m interviewing customers and employees for journey maps than I am in my personal life (lots of habits to break and social programming to readjust), but the principles are the same. Curious people ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions and do a lot of listening. I mean, A LOT of listening.

You can’t be curious about someone else unless you are willing to listen to them and understand their point of view. Coincidentally, listening is also the first step towards being a compassionate person. I always find that when I’m not feeling particularly empathetic or compassionate towards someone else, I’m not listening. And if I take a break, step back from the situation, and truly listen to what someone is saying, I gain a new perspective. The connection between listening and compassion is why the St. Francis prayer includes it as a virtue: “grant that I am not so much…to be understood as to understand others.” If there were more listening to understand than to be understood in the world, we’d be in a different place.

Curiosity and listening

From what I understand and my experience, listening builds awareness, which builds acceptance, sparks an emotional response, and inspires you to take action. Listening starts a chain of events to inspire change. It starts from that moment that you become aware of a problem, a concern, and a challenge. And if you accept it as true and it feels challenging, you get solutions to move forward. 

While we listen, we need trust to build connection with others

You may be willing to listen to others but is that person across from you ready to share their thoughts or experiences with you?

That is a difficult question to answer when you enter an interview or discussion with someone you have just met.

I think we all acknowledge that for conversations to flow and for someone to share their experiences easily, you need to build trust between you both. So how do you build trust with that person you literally just met? Some say you need to possess a certain type of energy that enables it to happen. Some rely on using the right words in conversation. To me, both reasons exclude many, and it makes listening something you need to be a “natural” type of person to do, which isn’t true. Anyone can learn how to be a good listener. Further, if it were true that good listeners exhibited specific traits limited to select individuals, then that would mean that there are people who can and cannot build trust and be trusted. It would be a sad and distressing world to know that there are people who, for whatever innate reason, cannot be trustworthy.

 Anyone can and should be able to build trust with others through listening. People do it every day. It’s a life skill that can always be improved through training and practice.

 What has worked for me in the past to be a better listener and build trust with others? To start, being perpetually curious and personally authentic.

 So, what does this mean, and what does it look like?

 During one client project, I met with one of their sales professionals. She was very quiet, reserved, and distant. I initially thought that the call may only last only about 10 minutes and that I wouldn’t get any information from her that I didn’t already know. She seemed guarded and untrusting of my colleague and me. I knew that it was our job to quickly win her trust to discover her perspective, or else the call would end, and we’d have to do this again in a few weeks, taking a different approach. And I didn’t want to do that. Actually, we didn’t have the project schedule to accommodate that.

How did we change the conversation tone? I shared with her what we heard from other groups to discover her opinion. She started to open up. We quickly discovered that many of the ideas we shared with other teams were ideas that she had previously discussed with them. We also discovered that some teams, like marketing, didn’t believe what she and others claimed was happening in her sales team. Marketing accused Sales of not properly selling a specific product when the issue was that the product didn’t have the right features and functions to be sold universally to customers as they wanted. Marketing doubted the feedback from Sales, and Sales felt blamed and shamed for something they didn’t do and had no control to fix.

The next issue we had to resolve based on this interview was why Marketing was doubting Sales. Sales told us nothing different than what we heard from other teams and customers. Their stories were consistent.

After many discussions with other stakeholders and customers and building trust along the way, we discovered that the problem among the teams was an inconsistent understanding of customers.

So how did we build that trust?

Next: Coming soon!