- Yet, how often do we step back from our own assumptions and become genuinely curious about where someone else is coming from?
- How often do we create space for creativity to emerge?
The recent federal election in the United States provided many examples of people speaking past each other. Whether watching the news, in blog posts, or connecting with friends via Facebook, there are opposing perspectives on what was said, which issues are important, or what should be done. The noise didn’t seem to add much insight and definitely didn’t bring people together.
So how do we get better at uncovering perspectives through conversations? To truly hear, we are best served by adopting what Albert Einstein called “a holy curiosity”:
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.[i]
When coaching in the workplace our curiosity is focused on the beliefs, values, assumptions, and perspectives of the people we work with. If we comprehend a little bit more of that mystery every day, we can have a much greater influence among our colleagues. We influence effectively when we know what influences them.
Below are some sample questions to learn more about someone else’s perspective:
- What’s your thinking on that? Can you help me understand your perspective?
- What motivates you to say that?
- What leads you to conclude that?
- What data or experiences do you have that leads you to say/believe that?
- What is the significance of that for you?
- How does this relate to your other concerns?
- Where does your reasoning go next?
- How would your proposal affect ___________?
- How would this be similar to (or different from) ____________?
- Can you describe an example of that?
Perspectives can sometimes become “ruts” in our thinking. Leaders with a lot of experience, or people with a strong opinion can get stuck in thought patterns. It’s important that we challenge ourselves and others to explore different perspectives, and challenge assumptions before making judgements. A helpful question to ask in these situations is: “What is another way to look at this issue?”
Some variations on this question are:
- If you were standing in the customers’ shoes, what would look different?
- If you were looking at this situation standing in the CEO’s shoes, what would you see?
- If you were looking back 3 to 6 months from now, what would your perspective on this situation be? How about 3 to 5 years from now?
- If you were a fly on the wall, what would you notice about the situation?
Considering other perspectives, allows us to get enough distance from the familiar way of thinking that we can come up with other possibilities. It’s not important we commit to those new ideas; only that they understand there are other options that could be investigated. As a coach, support the broadening of the thinking of others by asking these questions and enabling reflection.
Sometimes stepping back for a moment is just what we need in order to step forward again with greater clarity and confidence.
It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.
[i] “Einstein and the Poet” by William Hermanns (Branden Press, 1983 ). Page 147.