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Careers, Conversation, and Curiosity

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 emotion  that 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.

Image: (c) Can Stock Photo / Orson

4 comments on “Careers, Conversation, and Curiosity

  1. blackhat software on

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. An excellent read. I’ll certainly be back.

  2. John E. Smith on

    Hi, Julie:)

    Becky Robinson recently mentioned you and when Becky speaks, I tend to sit up straight, pay attention, and take notes.

    This is a nicely written post which takes a much more clarifying stance in addressing the importance of the conversations we have every single day.

    Your focus on the word “career” is particularly useful. Too often, people forget that they are building their personal brand/career with what they do, do not do, and how they approach what they put energy toward every day.

    I just subscribed and put you on my Tweet list, so I’ll be checking in regularly.

    Thanks for some thoughtful observations:)


    • Julie Giulioni on

      Thanks for your comment, John. I know what you mean about Becky. She say ‘jump’ and I ask ‘how high’? 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post; I’m really enjoying writing them. And it’s interesting how in vogue the topic of conversation has become. Do you think that so much time with technology has made us yearn for and appreciate that human act of talking with others more?

      I love your point about people forgetting that they’re building their brand with what they do and don’t do… those missed opportunities. It’s so true.

      I look forward to an ongoing dialogue!


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