Curiosity and Giving Attention

Great communicators are curious always. They are curious about how others think and feel, about what they perceive and believe, about the communication patterns they subconsciously prefer and, ultimately, about how they can best be influenced.

Two of the ways great communicators express their curiosity are:

1. By giving attention
2. By questioning.

Giving attention.
You have probably heard someone say that they “Paid attention” to someone or something. You might even have asked someone to “Pay attention”.

Why not regard attention as a gift?

Give it freely and in huge doses.

And be skilled in the giving.

Powerful communicators give skilled attention to people and situations in order to understand more about them. This understanding, coupled with the skills and mental flexibility required to adapt your communication style, creates elegant communication.

At work, managers tend to work with people they’ve known for some time and in situations they are accustomed to. Such familiarity can lead to assumptions that dull their attention and, by extension, limit their insights and understanding.

Assumptions that act as communication blinkers include:

1) ‘I know exactly how this person will react.’
2) ‘I’ve been in this situation many times before, so I know the best
3) ‘This is the sort of problem I’m not good at managing.’

Assumptions limit curiosity. We don’t give the people or situation a huge dose of attention because we are sure we know all the facts and possibilities. We stop questioning for the same reason.

In assumption 1) the speaker claims to be a mind reader and fortune teller. Perhaps they should be on the stage?

In assumption 2) the speaker has stopped looking for improvements because they believe they’ve found the perfect solution. They have also made the mistake of assuming that today’s events are exactly the same as something that happened in the past. Consequently they’ve stopped giving attention to detail. I was once asked to help a manager who used to say, ‘It’s OK everyone! I’ve been through this situation a hundred times before. I can manage it in my sleep. No problems.’ And his team did; they came to know lots of problems.

In assumption 3) the speaker reveals a negative belief they hold about their ability to learn and grow. Beliefs are not facts, are they?

Managers need to learn from other people’s experience as well as their own. They need to create a virtuous circle of being endlessly curious about the present, reviewing the lessons they’ve learned once it becomes the past, and developing their communication skills for the future to ensure that it becomes a worthwhile present.

And who doesn’t like a lovely present?

Next time I’ll talk about curiosity and questions.

Until then,

Keep Closing the Gap.


Curiosity and Questions

Questions are the mark of the curious person.

The ability to ask great questions forms a valuable part of the communication process. To manage questions well, you need to know how to structure, sequence, deliver and time them effectively. It is a most complex – and inordinately powerful – skill set.

Useful questions to ask yourself before asking a question of your own include:

‘Do I need to ask a question now?’
‘What is the most useful question I can ask?’
‘For whom is this question most useful?’
‘Will this question give me, or the other person, the level of information required?’
‘How can I phrase this question so that the other person understands it exactly how I need them to?’

Questions that help us explore new possibilities include:

‘In what other ways can I use this?’
‘What can this person teach me?’
‘What can I learn from this situation?’
‘What am I currently unaware of in this situation?’
‘What assumptions are driving my behaviour?’

To ask great questions you first have to see and hear clearly. You have to give huge amounts of skilled attention to others. You have to recognise language patterns, beliefs, assumptions, the ways others use their senses to define reality. You have to recognise, and remove, your own communication blinkers.

Until next time,

Keep Closing the Gap.


People respond to their experience, not to reality

Last Sunday, I was watching a game of football in the park. At one point I saw a perfectly good tackle. The man next to me saw a foul warranting a yellow card. Sam, the man’s dog, just watched a ball that needed chasing. We were all involved in the same event, and we all experienced it differently.


Perhaps because of the degree of attention we were giving to that particular incident. Or because of relationships we shared with certain players on the pitch. Or because of our beliefs and values. Or because of a primal instinct that screams at us to chase anything that vaguely resembles a rabbit. This last possibility applies only to simple creatures like Sam, of course. (Although it might also apply to the guy next to me, as it was clearly a fair tackle.)

The important point is that we all experience the world and process information through our senses. However, no two people see the world in exactly the same way. We don’t necessarily interpret the same words in the same way. We don’t express the same emotions in the same way. As a result, we don’t remember the same event in precisely the same way. Hence the communication gap.

Listen to the phrase:

‘We give meanings to statements and events.’

Which is the most telling word in that sentence?

Did you choose the word ‘give’? Meanings don’t exist until we create them, do they?

We all apply meanings based on our perspectives, expectations and aspirations. So, the more you understand how others experience a particular event, the more capable you are of discussing it with them in ways that make them come rushing across the bridge to meet you.

In the final analysis, words are not reality. They are the primary symbols through which we attempt to share our experiences with others and with ourselves.

The wonderful paradox is that although words are not the reality they describe, they are more powerful than that reality. They shape that reality and our interaction with it. They influence our expectations and our experiences. They either hold us prisoner or set us free.


Treat them with respect. Use them with care.

Until next time,

Keep Closing the Gap.