Why curiosity can look like mutiny

Do we want our employees to always do what we say, or ask them to have some curiosity some of the time?
Do we want our employees to act as robots, moving mindlessly through their work every day, or should we ask them to bring curiosity to the table (or window in the case!)? I didn’t really want Oliver to cross through here, but I admire his curiosity and persistence to explore new places in his world.

When an employee is constantly curious and challenging, it might seem like you have mutiny on your hands. You, as the manager, just want the person to move on with the task at hand — the way you intended it to be done. Instead, you are left dealing with endless questions, ongoing suggestions for alternative plans, and debates about your course of action. It can become annoying. 

But what if the conversation was viewed in a different light? What if the employee simply has the best outcomes in mind?

Employees know when they work within a culture that is eager to hear the opinions of others. They also know if the culture is one that punishes those that speak up. Survival is the name of the game in the latter workplace, prosperity thrives in the former.

As always, we need to consider both sides. Yes, it can get tiring to work with someone who drives too hard, moves too fast, or pushes hot buttons constantly. But if the curiosity and desire for better solutions are coming from a place of authentic improvement, then we should respect and invite the open conversation, frequent questions, and tough feedback.

A workplace that doesn’t allow feedback is one that fosters mediocrity and status quo; it also ensures that top performers will walk out the door. It will squelch creativity and innovation. It promotes defensive behavior, back-stabbing, and gossip. Which would you rather work in? Which are you promoting by your words and actions?

I’m always advocating for employees and managers to remain open and curious to each other. But I’m also here to say that I know it can be difficult; it requires commitment and patience and the knowledge of the overall organizational goals, which may be different from your individual needs. 

I have personal proof of how difficult it can be: saying that you are open to a culture of curiosity is all fine and dandy until you’re in the heat of the situation, faced with someone (or some tenacious critter) challenging you. The other night, Oliver, our curious and agile cat, decided that it was time for him to explore the sun room, a place in the house that is off-limits to anyone in the family who has sharp claws. A few years back when we converted the screen porch into a year-round room, one of the pieces of furniture we chose was a leather chair. We knew the cats would destroy it (or at least enjoy scratching it up real good), so we keep the door closed and they remain are on the other (non-leather chair) side. They enter this room on occasion when we’re coming and going, but they aren’t allowed to stay when we leave the room.

But for whatever reason, Oliver had a moment of curious inspiration, and decided to go visit that room on his own. It’s quite a height to the mid-level of the window; this separation had worked for so long we never imagined either cat had interest to challenge it.

Wrong.

And wouldn’t you know it, my first reaction was not one of patience and commitment for allowing his curiosity. I hollered and scolded him for being naughty. He knows the rule: no-going-in-that-room. But even as I tried to get him to stop, I could see where that ‘rule’ was a big impediment to his curiosity.

Really, what kind of rule is that for a cat? To put a life-like felted bird hanging from the frame, inviting him to do something he loves to do — climb and explore —  to experience what’s beyond what he sees every day. In fact, I admire his tenacity, but it was not convenient for me and I reacted accordingly. I caught myself in a place where I was mad at him for doing something he was built to do.

Grace is constantly sniffing out things in the woods. Sometimes she comes up with some pretty gross stuff that I'd prefer she leave behind. But it would be rude of me to ask her not to do what comes natural for her.
Grace is constantly sniffing out things in the woods. Sometimes she comes up with some pretty gross stuff that I’d prefer she leave behind. But it would be rude of me to ask her not to do what comes natural for her.

When we suppress the creative questioning and curiosity from an employee, for the sake of making things easier on ourselves, everyone loses.

It’s critical that we remain open to another perspective and explore together that yet-unknown-thing that is mutually beneficial.

That’s why I believe in implementing structured ways that managers and employees can open a meaningful dialogue, putting away the boxing gloves, having a mutual and respective conversation, and dropping the levels of defensiveness.

If you’d like to create this type of open and accepting culture, please join us next Thursday, April 3, for a FREE webinar on how Assessment-Based Coaching can work for you. Together with Renee Charney of Charney Coaching and Consulting, we’ll discuss how you can “Grow Your Own Leaders.”

Giving feedback does not have to feel like there is a mutiny! For more information, click here.

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2 comments

  1. Renee says:

    Great post, Robin! Your words brought me to reflection this morning, and curious, about how I might have squelched the creativity and insightful contributions of folks on my team in the past when I’ve, unintentionally or intentionally, shut down their curiosity. We, as leaders, can get caught up in our own thinking to the point of not realizing (or recognizing) that others’ perspectives and actions (outside our self-thought) could actually be even better than our own. I wonder how many times I may have shooed back an employee from crawling through their curiosity window. I agree with you…Instead, let’s let curiosity win and see where it takes us!

    • Robin says:

      Renee, thanks for your openness. I bet there is no one out there that hasn’t squelched someone else’s voice at some time, and most likely unknowingly. We can be so intent on our own opinions and needs that it can be hard to stop and adjust. Your supportive and collaborative coaching style makes it easy to build those skills. Thank you again for sharing your perspective!

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