Thinking Out Loud


Recently I’ve been talking about curiosity as a communication skill—and, perhaps one of the most important communication skills. Why?

Imagine that every time you engage in an important conversation you remain curious. What impact will this have on the other person and the outcome of the discussion? . . . Think about it. . . . Remaining curious requires an open mind, an open heart, and a genuine interest in the other person. If you have that, those you’re conversing with will feel this and most will respond positively, likely resulting in greater openness.

Being curious is more than just being interested in gathering information. It anchors the listener in a posture that communicates good will, which makes being open much easier. The more openness, the deeper a conversation can go, and achieving understanding—the goal of interpersonal communication—is more likely.

In a previous post I referred to research about older couples who had been married (happily) fifty years or more. The aim of the research was to discover the ingredients that contributed to their happiness. These couples all reported remaining curious, realizing that as much as you know about your loved one, you don’t know everything—and you never will. This open-mindedness—curiosity—created a respectful environment where both partners continued learning about each other.

In the “Basic and Necessary Communication Skills” section of my book, Do You Know What I Mean?—Discovering Your Personal Communication Style, I suggest asking “I’d like to understand what’s really important to you. Can you tell me?” when you’re having a difficult conversation. This, when asked with sincerity, creates an opportunity for real listening.

Of course the most important advice for creating harmony in relationships is to listen. Listening well is an important skill. Curiosity is a special part of listening, perhaps a sub-skill. How we classify curiosity is unimportant, though, as long as we practice it and communicate it to others when we are trying to achieve understanding.

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