Pattern #29

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Expanding Situational Curiosity

Credits: Iceberg: Romolo Tavani / Diver: littlesam – Shutterstock

Every circumstance has many dimensions and there is always more involved than we realize at any given time. So avoid jumping to thought-terminating, possibility-constricting conclusions. Ask: What are we missing? What else should we be considering? Who else should be part of the conversation? What could this situation also be? What is possible now?

  • What else is at play here? What are we overlooking? What else should we be considering?
  • Who else should be part of this conversation?
  • Whose perspective would help us avoid groupthink and inappropriate assumptions?
  • What kind of process would keep us from jumping to conclusions and landing prematurely in the wrong place?
  • Are there other ways to look at this that might produce important insights?
  • What could this situation also be?
  • What is possible now?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

I have a tongue-in-cheek joke that I tell people. I say “I know the ultimate truth in the universe. It’s something that is true in all circumstances and is the most important thing to know in every circumstance. Do you want to know what it is?” Then I pause and when they say yes, I say, “There’s more to it than that!… That’s the most important thing to know in every circumstance.”

Every circumstance has that dimension – and that’s the truth that underlies this pattern. So this is essential for wisdom: When you want to take into account what needs to be taken account, you can’t oversimplify things. You can’t jump to conclusions. You have to stay open.

And, ideally, whenever there’s a hint that there’s something you should pay attention to, you take the hint, go for it, look for it, check it out.

Of course, we’re constrained by time and situations – all kinds of things constrain us. But we need to recognize that there is that “more-ness” out there – the “more to it” in my joke – waiting to be seen, reflected on, acted on, engaged with.

So whenever we find ourselves not having resources, not having the energy, not having the opportunity, not having the time to actually continue to expand our understanding, we need to acknowledge that that’s a limit. It’s not a time to decide that we’ve finally understood the situation. If we can, we want to stay open to whatever else we should be learning about that’s going on.

And so, given all that, when we make a decision, we know it’s always premature. We know there’s always things we haven’t taken into account. And because of that, we then stay open to what reality will be telling us about what we’ve missed. Because reality has a habit of telling us what we didn’t take into account. So let’s be open to getting that feedback.

And then there’s another piece to this. Over my desk I have a little advice sign I made that says “Curiosity and Respect”. It’s to remind me of those two things in my relationships – particularly when things get difficult. When there’s a conflict, there’s a tendency to dismiss the other person and to think “I know where they’re coming from and they’re stupid and they’re just not understanding…” But what is it like to instead have curiosity and respect, to start out thinking “This person is a legitimate being and their frame of reference is probably legitimate in some way, if they believe it. So what are they actually thinking and feeling? What will I do to find out?” And then having the courageous, humble curiosity to ask “What’s going on for you?” And then letting them know what I heard, what I think I heard, and then asking, truthfully, “Am I getting this right? What am I missing? I think there may be something I’m not understanding about what’s going on for you and I want to understand.”

Whole practices like Nonviolent Communication and Dynamic Facilitation are based on that kind of reflective listening. You’re not just reflecting to get them out of the way and wrap it up. You’re reflecting because you’re trying to figure out what’s really going on.

There is lots of possibility included in here, too, in this pattern. These powerful questions like “What is possible now? What could this situation also be?” Whatever’s going on has its limits, of course, but it also has opportunities built into it. So we ask “What can we do with this situation?” There’s this openness.

I like the little symbol for the category question this pattern goes with – this little yellow square with the arrows coming out of it. It is actually perfect here: We’re stretching and expanding all the time and that helps us be wise and to gather resources that we need to actually have positive impact in the world.

Video Introduction (6 min)