We all feel challenged at one time or another by colleagues, managers, clients, or customers. When we don't take into account differences in expectations, communication styles, and priorities, we can set our relationships up to be plagued by hurt feelings and chronic frustration.
In her book, Make Difficult People Disappear: How to Deal with Stressful Behavior and Eliminate Conflict, author Monica Wofford writes that "conflict occurs when we demand and expect others to behave in a way that is not natural or known." We hold a picture in our heads of how someone else should behave in a particular situation, which is often different from how they do behave in that situation, and then tension arises.
And what compounds the difficulty is that we don't explore what's in the gap between our expectations and reality. So, we end up perpetually frustrated, disappointed, and expecting things to be different next time without doing the work to make it so.
What's "the work"? Being curious. According to Harvard Business School professor and author Francesca Gino, curiosity can lead to more open communication, better team performance, and reduced group conflict. Her research shows that curious people share information more openly and listen more carefully.
So, what are you getting curious about? Explore what each of you wants, needs, and expects from your working relationship, what you might do to put those into practice, and how to effectively negotiate when you have different approaches and styles.
Here are 15 questions that I share with my coaching clients and my workshop participants to both ask and answer to help start the process of getting curious:
1. What do I say or have said in the past that you have appreciated the most?
2. What do I say or have said in the past that makes you uncomfortable?
3. What's your default approach to conflict?
4. What disagreement approaches won't work well between us?
5. What happens if we can't agree on something important that involves both of us?
6. How might we ask for a "time out" if a conversation starts to feel unproductive?
7. What will be the early warning signs that our relationship is in trouble?
8. What can I do to make your day?
9. How do you like to receive both positive and constructive feedback?
10. What are your "hot buttons"?
11. How would you like me to remind you about my "hot buttons"?
12. What's the biggest lesson I might be able to learn from you?
13. What's the biggest lesson you think you can learn from me?
14. What about our work together is likely to be a recurring issue or challenge?
15. What about our work together is likely to change both of us for the better?
While these questions are a great place to start, they're just the beginning. Add some (or a lot) of your own to bring curiosity and consideration to your relationships. As Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."