Posted by: paulkonasewich | September 1, 2008

The power of curiosity

The other night I was having dinner with a friend (I’ll call her “A”) when something interesting happened. The waiter came over to check on how we were doing with the meal, and within a few moments A had engaged him in a conversation. She was doing most of the listening – and he was happily telling us about how he had worked at this restaurant for many years, but now had a job building elevators. He was just filling in tonight as a favor to the owners. I noticed that as he talked, there was a certain joy in his sharing. His face lit up.

I’ve noticed that A seems to do this wherever she goes and so I asked her about it. Okay well first I acknowledged and admired what I was observing. She said that she has a deep down curiosity for other people, and their experiences in life. I know that I’ve certainly experience that with A.–before I know it I’m talking and talking and getting even more excited about my own ideas. As if that curiosity is contagious.

Every once in a while I’ll get a question in the class that goes something like this: “How do I appear interested as a listener?” I’ve seen magazine articles that give various physical things that one could conceivably try in order to appear in gauge. You’ve heard them before: “lean forward, make eye contact, nod.” Although it may be possible to fool some of the people some of the time, I’ve got to ask: ” Why resort to trickery?”

Nothing beats authentic curiosity. Add to this “positive regard” and you’ve got a potent listening combo. Furthermore I think you can do many of the techniquey things “wrong” but if you are genuinely curious and present, the speaker will pick up on it. I’ll add that I’ve had listeners who did the techniquey stuff right but just weren’t present, and I picked up on it right away.

Thus the more useful question than “How do I appear interested?” may be “How can I cultivate interest as a listener?” Something just tells me that Eran has some great ideas on that.

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