Careers, Conversation, and Curiosity


NOTE:  Originally posted July 25th, 2012 at

There’s a lot of talk about conversation in business today – and everyone has a favorite.  Some like it ‘fierce’.  Others prefer ‘crucial’.

But, we are particularly fond of the career conversation. After 30 years working with managers and employees alike, we are more convinced than ever that people don’t grow because of beautifully-completed forms, well-followed processes, gleaming checklists or annual IDP deadlines.  Instead, careers are developed one conversation at a time, over time.  So, at its core, career development is all about conversations – conversations that:

  • Are regular, frequent and embedded in the flow of work
  • Keep people focused, energized, striving, and moving forward
  • Reinforce the organization’s commitment to employees and their desire to learn, grow and progress

The problem is that too few leaders understand the most critical element of conversation.  They attend to the mechanics but in many cases have lost the spirit that should guide them.  They ask good open-ended questions, demonstrate all the right non-verbal cues that telegraph interest, paraphrase, show empathy, and even take notes.  From the outside, it might look like a fine conversation; but on the inside, it is frequently missing the most important, results-driving dimension of all: genuine curiosity.

What exactly is curiosity? It’s an emotion – nothing more and nothing less.  But, it’s an emotionthat drives a whole range of human behaviors.  It causes us to investigate, explore and learn.  The emotional charge associated with curiosity is felt by those who possess it – along with anyone else in their presence.

As a result, curiosity has the power to transform the exchange of mere words into discovery and insight.  It fills even a brief chat with possibilities, opportunities, and hope.  It leaves others feeling strong, capable and like they have something of value to contribute.  And it allows a career conversation to unlock deep understandings, activate motivation, spark drive, and focus action.

Think about your own experience.   You’ve spent time with people who approach you, their work, and the world in general with a sincere sense of interest, openness to new ideas and different people, and a spirit of inquiry.  And you’ve spent time with those who don’t.  Which do you prefer?  If you’re like most people, Door #1 is more inspiring, engaging and fulfilling.

You might be able to fake listening, but not curiosity.

Curiosity might be the most under-the-radar and undervalued leadership competency in business today.  Think about it… what could you accomplish if you practiced passionate, curious listening – really listening with intention and a true sense of purpose to learn and understand? What ideas and possibilities could you cultivate if you honed your ability to wonder out loud with those around you?  What could others accomplish if you engaged with them in a way that communicated how fascinating and capable they truly were?

Developing the ability to approach individuals, situations, and conversations with curiosity and even a sense of wonder can affect your own energy and enthusiasm, relationships with others, performance, and hard business results… not to mention the quality of your career conversations.