Curiosity is a superpower that enables us to improve our lives. Empathic curiosity allows people to listen thoughtfully and see problems or decisions from another’s perspective, not to criticize or judge, but to understand. Asking questions promotes more meaningful connections and more creative outcomes. When we carefully listen to the answers we seek, we build better relationships faster, fuel employee engagement, and reduce conflict.
George Mason and Patrick McKnight created a five-dimensional model of curiosity that can help us understand curiosity and how to nurture it.
The first dimension, deprivation sensitivity, causes us to recognize a gap in our knowledge. Filling it offers relief. This type of curiosity doesn’t necessarily feel good, but it causes us to feel better once we have a solution to a problem. For instance, a trip to the emergency room will give answers to the question about whether a person has had a heart attack. Both a “yes” or “no” answer will satisfy our curiosity.
The second dimension, joyous exploration, causes us to be consumed with wonder about the fascinating features of the world. This exploration produces pleasure among those curious enough to pursue answers.
The third dimension, social curiosity, encourages us to talk, listen, and observe others to learn what they are thinking and doing. Since we are inherently social animals, we find communication the most effective and efficient way to gain information that will allow us to determine whether someone is friend or foe. Some may even snoop, eavesdrop, or gossip to do so.
The fourth dimension, stress tolerance, relates to our willingness to accept and even harness the anxiety associated with novelty. People who lack stress tolerance see information gaps, experience wonder, and have an interest in others, but they don’t tend to satisfy their curiosity by stepping forward and exploring.
The fifth dimension, thrill seeking, goes beyond tolerating stress to embracing a willingness to take physical, social, and financial risks to acquire varied, complex, and intense experiences. For people with this capacity, the anxiety of confronting novelty is something to be amplified, not reduced.
Curiosity is the catalyst that brings job satisfaction, motivation, innovation, and high performance. It fosters collaboration and fortifies organizational resilience by prompting creative problem- solving in the face of uncertainty and pressure.
Good leaders build and reward curiosity in their organizations by:
- Rewarding creative failures. Recognize the value of effort and experimentation, even when it fails.
- Understand that curious people learn quickly and bore easily. Encourage continuous growth and learning.
- Give ever-challenging work and real authority to make a difference.
- Make organizations places where the curious choose to work and become magnets for other top performers.
- Give direction in the form of democratic guidance, not an absence of direction. Don’t micromanage. If you try to micromanage a curious person just a little, you will lose that person.