How Curiosity Leads You Astray and What to do When it Does

Not all questions express genuine curiosity.

#1. Curiosity as resistance:

Perfectly intelligent people feign ignorance as an act of subversive resistance.

“When I don’t want to do something, I ask my boss lots of questions. Usually he ends up giving the assignment to someone else. Or he does it himself.” Anonymous employee

I’ve seen smart people play dumb because they didn’t like what they were hearing.

Politically savvy leaders disguise resistance by asking detailed questions about execution. They don’t like an initiative but don’t want to declare their position. They use the thousand cuts method to kill projects.

#2. Curiosity as control:

Leaders ask questions as a form of control. They don’t want to overtly take control but they have opinions about the best way to do things.

They want people to think for themselves – as long as people think like them.

#3. Curiosity as deflection:

I use questions to keep people talking about themselves. I don’t want to talk about myself so I keep others talking about themselves.

#4. Curiosity as protection:

Experienced leaders ask questions because they see dangers that novices don’t see. Questions give others the opportunity to think about the future and consider unexplored options.

Some questions are designed to help others discover why their plan won’t work.

Ask questions when you hear lots of questions:

  1. What concerns you about this project?
  2. What dangers do you see ahead?
  3. What do you need to know to move forward?
  4. What am I missing?

Curiosity for clarity:

People who like to get things done need a clear path forward. They don’t like building the airplane in the air. They ask questions because they prefer planning ahead.

Curiosity for clarity feels like resistance to dreamers. If this is you, you’d be smart to work out a better plan with the people who need greater clarity.

What negative forms of curiosity have you experienced?

What could leaders do when they start hearing lots of questions?