My dad asked my mom, “What’s Paul’s last name?”
We were on our way to meet my mom’s best friend and her new boyfriend.
“Watt,” my mom says.
“I asked, what’s his last name?”
“Are listening to me?!” he yells. “What’s his last name?”
“Watt! Watt! His last name is Watt!”
“That’s what I’m asking you!!”
The amusement of the whole thing was lost on my six-year-old mind, who’d never seen the classic “Who’s on First” routine.
What wasn’t lost on me was the fact that communication doesn’t always goes smoothly and when that happens the people involved usually just get louder with each other, which really doesn’t help anybody understand anything better.
The power of curiosity.
I’ve been curious about the things that make people tick since I was little, constantly peppering my parents with questions about why people did what they did. As I grew up, that curiosity got further reinforced because I was an army brat and we moved about every four years. Always being the new kid in school, I had to find a way to fit in. Curiosity about people and trying to understand them better was a lifesaver. It meant I could adjust in a situation when it was necessary, which is helpful when people have very different perspectives.
The reality is that each of us has a unique set of DNA, our brains are wired differently and we all have a different set of experiences (even identical twins who would have the same DNA) yet most of us think or expect other people to see things in exactly the same way we do. This is where communication breaks down and the power of curiosity comes in.
If you come at a conversation from a fixed mindset, you aren’t going to get very far.
There’s going to be a very limited number of people who see the world in the way you do on any given topic, and even if they do agree with you, their reason for doing so is going to be different than yours somewhere along the way.
That’s all good when you agree, but when you don’t, chances are it’s going to end in frustration, if not an explosion of tempers. But if you become curious about the other person’s point of view and how they got there, instead of adopting a “my way or the highway” kind of thinking, a whole world of information opens up for you.
The key to great communication is being adaptable.
The more you can adjust in a conversation to help another person see your point of view, or to understand theirs, the more successful you will be with your interactions.
If you don’t agree with someone, instead of getting louder with your particular point, take a step back and get curious. Find out what makes them think they way they do. Saying something like, “That’s an interesting point of view. I haven’t thought of it that way. Tell me more about your angle on this.” will give you a wealth of information on their perspective.
That’s kind of curiosity that gives you power. You get to learn about their experience, what they value and what’s important to them. Once you have that, you have the ability to create deeper meaning in the conversation by connecting your points with areas of similarity. That’s going to help you build stronger connections.
When you don’t agree, you’ll at least come to understand why they feel the way they do about the topic. Just that kind of insight can stop a conversation that’s going sideways, from escalating into a screaming match.
The more curious you are the more adaptable you can become in your conversations. That will improve your communication skills and help you build much stronger relationships.