The Journey to Insatiable Curiosity About Controversial Issues
When I was younger, I only wanted to spend time socially with people having the same common interests as I had, customer service and baseball. Not very broad. I wasn’t trying to avoid difficult topics, per se. I just hated the thought of spending even a few hours with someone who did not want to talk nonstop about those two topics. I had zero curiosity, zero interest in learning about the other person, what interested them. I thought I was great at building relationships because I talked a lot. Sadly, it was me doing the majority of the talking about … me.
Thank God I evolved. And, I learned the hard way. When you only talk about what you know, about things with which you are already very familiar, you never evolve, you never learn, and you never become more well-rounded in multiple areas that will add fulfillment to your life and make you more enjoyable to be around. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to talk baseball and customer service and these topics can, and often do result in productive conversations. And, given the natural tendencies of sports fans, sometimes heated ones! That said, I am a lot more curious today.
Ted Lasso: “Be Curious, Not Judgmental”
My all-time favorite TV series is “Ted Lasso”. If you haven’t ever seen it, go watch it today! In contrast to all the negative, doom and gloom shows out there, Ted Lasso is inspiring, funny, and entertaining. Most of all, he makes you want to be a better person. One of my favorite clips from the show is where Ted sandbags the villainous, arrogant, billionaire soccer team owner in a game of darts, and he quotes Walt Whitman: “Be curious, not judgmental.” Check out the short clip.
Navigating Divisive Topics
Back in the day the rule of thumb was “don’t talk religion and politics.” Today, it seems like there are over a dozen divisive issues that can send people into a heated debate, even prompting personal attacks on anyone who has an opposite opinion. To religion and politics, you can add social issues such as vaccines, Roe vs. Wade, same-sex marriages, gun control, Black Lives Matter, and cancel culture, just to name a few. The real issue, however, is that these complex topics are all great conversations to start, especially when you have people with opposing viewpoints. Solid discussion guidelines can be developed. How else can we learn fundamental skills for meaningful conversation and future discussions about hot-button issues?
Listen Like You are Wrong
So how do we have constructive conversations without fear of them turning ugly? We need to train ourselves not to defend our ideas, but rather to explore new ones. One of the best things I have ever heard, but the hardest to do, is listen like you are wrong. Whether that is talking to an irate customer, significant other, or anyone who has a different opinion than yours. I might be the only person that argues with someone who agrees with me. I get worried when everyone in the conversation appears to all have the same opinions. That is when I try to play devil’s advocate to ensure we are not being narrow-minded.
*Related – Meet the Most Liked Person I have ever met
Curiosity is a Superpower
Those who are the strongest at relationship building are extremely curious. They are eager to learn about others and their experiences. They are curious not only about subjects that interest them but also about unfamiliar subjects. They truly enjoy learning; they explore what makes human beings tick.
The best relationship builders appear like detectives in their conversations, looking for clues to finding out what makes the other person unique and memorable. They’re after things you won’t find on their Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. “Highly empathic people have an insatiable curiosity about strangers,” said Roman Krznaric, author of Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It. “They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus.”
Such curiosity leads to empathy expanding quite naturally during interactions with those outside our usual crowd, people who tend to view the world at least somewhat differently than we do.
The authors of the book Superconnector explain how great connectors operate: “Connectors have small talk with a purpose. They are never just engaging in conversation for the sake of conversation.” There is always a goal of gleaning from the other person the most pertinent information about them at the core level, for potential future reference.
People with insatiable curiosity become investigative reporters, wanting to learn as much as possible about other people’s lives and passions. Being curious forces you to have fierce attention during conversations.
Fierce Attention Leads to a Balanced Discussion
Fierce attention means, that if you ask a question and don’t ask two to three follow-up (clarifying) questions, odds are you weren’t listening, or you just asked the question to be polite, e.g., “How was your weekend?” or, you were dying to answer it yourself. When talking to others, we should aim for a 4:1 ratio of questions asked vs. answered.
The Art of Listening and the Best Use of Language
“Listening to understand is often the only way of showing people they are special and that you care for them,” says Rich Simmonds in his blog The Art of Listening. He adds, “If you are unable to connect with people to the point that they can trust you, they will not follow you as a leader or give you the opportunity to serve them as a leader (or as a salesperson, for that matter). These are the basics of a relationship, and trust will only be sustainable in the safety of a relationship.”
Without listening with the goal of understanding, we don’t learn about others’ insecurities or, for that matter, our own. And insecurities are something we all have in common. As Simmonds also points out, “It is our task to show people we care, not so that we can blatantly manipulate them into using our product or service, but rather by listening and trying to understand them where they are.” Empathetic listening will help us determine what people really need so we can provide it in a way that is tailored specifically for them, resulting in a situation where everyone wins.
How can you perfect the art of listening? Ask fascinating, probing questions, follow-up questions, and even more questions. Then be silent and let the person speak their piece. You learn valuable insights not from asking one question, but through an unstructured back-and-forth dialogue. As Tom Peters notes in his book The Excellence Dividend, “If you ask a question and don’t ask two or three follow-up questions, odds are you weren’t listening to the answer. A good listener becomes INVISIBLE; makes the respondent the centerpiece.”
Peters dedicates an entire chapter to listening in which he writes, “Attention is one thing. FIERCE attention resides on a different planet.” He believes fierce attention is of such a high degree that the person responding to you feels totally engrossed and as if the focus is completely on them. And rather than merely listening or improving your listening skills, Peters believes in making fierce listening to your number one strategic goal, the primary trait differentiating you from everyone else.
It is not about listening so you can decide when to chime in with your own opinion; it is about listening to actually understand. Asking these two questions can dramatically help anyone’s ability to listen to understand: “Tell me more” and “Help me understand.”
Myths of a Good Listener
In their Harvard Business Review article, “What Great Listeners Actually Do,” authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman explain how most people believe they are better-than-average listeners. They reveal the myth of how people believe good listening comes down to:
- Remaining silent while others are speaking
- Using facial expressions and verbal sounds (“mmm-hmm”) to indicate that you’re listening to others
- Repeating word for word what others said. We have all been taught this practice and heard the following comment: “So, let me make sure I understand you. What you’re saying is . . . ”
Research suggests that these behaviors fall far short of superior listening skills. The article cites a study comparing the best listeners to average listeners and identifying the characteristics that make an outstanding listener:
- Good listening is much more than being silent. It is actually the opposite; people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that stimulate further discovery and insight. Sitting silently and nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog. The best conversations were active.
- Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive. Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them.
- Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive—as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
- Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in ways that others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider.
This was my favorite part of the HBR article: “While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listener are like trampolines.” You can bounce ideas off a truly good listener. In return, rather than merely taking your energy, they deliver energy and clarification back to your own thought process. They are active supporters, increasing your vertical movement and energy level for a metaphorical trampoline effect. It is a fantastic example of brilliance in the basics, because what could be more foundational to success than your customers feeling they’ve truly been heard?
Making this approach an integral part of your customer support vision statement is worth considering. When your employees learn and practice this style of higher-level communication, it will naturally lead to a superior customer service experience.
JOHN RUHLIN KEYNOTING AT THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REVOLUTION CONFERENCE
We are thrilled to announce that John Ruhlin will be keynoting at this year’s Customer Service Revolution. John Ruhlin is the world’s leading authority in maximizing customer loyalty through radical generosity. He is the founder and author of Gift·ology and has been featured in Fox News, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc, and The New York Times. While becoming the #1 performer out of 1.5 million sales reps for one of the world’s most recognizable brands, John developed a system of using generosity to gain access to elite clients and generate thousands of referrals.
The title of John’s keynote is Referrals Without Asking. The proven system to grow sales with gratitude and 10x your sales team referrals on a consistent and predictable basis, John’s engaging message will share his proven Gift·ology Marketing System that, if followed, will 10x your referrals. He also shares the common pitfalls to which most companies fall prey as they look to deepen client relationships, inspire employees, and pursue Dream 100 prospects.
EPISODE 096 OF THE CSREVOLUTION PODCAST:
Referrals without Asking With John DiJulius and John Ruhlin
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Too many customer-facing employees and leaders are convinced that customers will be happy and loyal if they get the results they were hoping for when doing business with them. That’s not true. Customer loyalty is a result of the multiple positive micro-experiences a person has with a brand.”
2022 is the Year of The Great Retention
During these economic times, you can’t compromise your hiring, training, or the customer experience your company delivers. 2022 is the year of The Great Retention . . . of your valued customers AND team members.
- Employee experience
- Customer experience
- Contact center care
- Diversity and inclusion
- Change management
- Leadership, and much more!
Breakout sessions are back!
You’re going to love the content that has been curated for you during the two-day conference. These sessions will allow your team to divide and conquer at the event, learning as much as possible during their experience.
Register today at a low rate of $1,200 per person!
Group discounts are available for teams of 4+ attendees.