"What's important about that to you?" He asked me over a meal of steak, asparagus, and a bottle of Pellegrino.
I told him.
"Make sense? It's a little different, and I believe it. It's important to me." I felt the threat of a vulnerability hangover rolling in and we hadn't even finished our food. What's more, this was a good friend and I hadn't been asked about this idea before. This was the first time I was sharing it -- it was a tender topic for me. In between my vulnerability meter going off and deciding how much more to share, I was impressed he'd thought to ask.
"Makes sense. Sounds important, tell me more..." Suddenly I felt safe and curious myself. Hmmm... What more was there? My vulnerability meter signaled again, this time quieter, and I realized the other thing signaling was the rush of being witnessed by someone truly present, caring, and curious - a powerful experience, especially in a moment on one's edge. It wasn't so much the questions he was asking, as the quality of presence and authenticity he was exuding. At this point, I would have answered any question this person asked, if only to immerse myself more fully in the land of curiosity and unfolding. There was safety here, richness, sincerity, presence... I was game.
This got me thinking more about curiosity and the power it holds.
Whenever I speak, I talk about the power of presence -- a powerful force and one of our most potent super powers. Add in curiosity and you create some kind of "oxytocin-connection-high-energy-truth-telling" serum bomb. Regardless the sex of the person or the situation, professional or personal, the experience of being witnessed and heard is seductive. And productive.
In my work, I lean into the art of curiosity daily. Curiosity is that thing that bonds people, that opens up and heals conflict, that builds bridges, that has people feel seen and valued, and that leads to greater collaboration and innovation.
At this meal, I was experiencing a whole new benefit of curiosity - an apparent oxytocin increase. Could that be possible from a conversation; from being witnessed, from the experience of combining presence, curiosity, and vulnerability? Even within a business relationship or friendship? Even within a non-romantic connection? Apparently yes. Bam.
There is an intimacy with curiosity that gets created, whether in the bedroom or the boardroom, with your friends or colleagues, with your kids. Curiosity as a state enhances connection, relating, parenting, creativity, you name it -- it opens doors and its powers are not to be underestimated.
Not only does it help build relationships and innovate, it's compelling. Not only is it an excellent leadership skill, its got game. It's sexy. This is not new information. Any woman or man out there who's ever been witnessed and in a container of presence and sincere curiosity, knows what I'm talking about. Simply put, there's gold here.
The week previous to this meal, I'd enjoyed another meal with a colleague who'd shared that he and his wife were struggling; they'd disconnected, sex was absent, connection broken, they were "roommates". And he didn't know what had gone wrong.
Like so many, he chalked it up to her being tired, taking care of the kids, and possibly hormones (gents, don't do that, we hate it and you're usually wrong anyway). Did I have any thoughts on this topic?
"Who is your wife becoming?" I asked. He looked at me funny - a bit of a flinch.
"What are her dreams? What does she want? What does she think about? What do you want to know about her? What are you loving about her right now? What does she count on you for? What's she given up on getting from you? Do you wonder? Do you ask?"
"No. I don't."
Fantastic. His changes will be easier effort, high leverage, and high return IF done with authenticity and care.
"Go home, get curious, show up, enjoy your evening."
How could it not? Curiosity shines bright -- it's irresistible. And while it's all too often missing, with awareness and intention, it's easy to bring back into the fold and change the game. After all, a man or woman who is curious, who desires, who's determined, who pays attention to detail, who cares, who wants you, and who lets you know it - that's compelling.
To do this takes presence, curiosity... and courage. You have to show up.
And it's not just for home, you can take it to work. Curiosity resolves conflicts; it builds and strengthens relationships. Curiosity creates beautiful things; it innovates. It builds culture. It averts misunderstandings before they're too far down the path. It's a wonder power. It improves your game and your bottom line.
What's the ROI for you on presence and curiosity; at home, at work, on your team, with your lover, with your kids? Worthy, yes?
Curious how to get curious? Let me serve your relationships and organizational tensions right here, right now, ready?
These questions apply to business or personal. Morph them as they serve you. (There's nothing worse than feigned curiosity.) If you're a business leader using these - wonderful - these apply to individuals, peers, teams, bosses, direct reports, the barista at your coffee shop, anyone... they're for humans.
- Who is this person?
- What do they want? Need?
- Who are they becoming? Where are they going?
- What do you want to know about them?
- How can you contribute to them?
- Why do they do that thing they do?
- Where do they need support?
There is no wrong way to do this. Just "show up" and get curious. Any of these, with presence and intention, will build that bridge to better connections, relationships, and ultimately better outcomes - possibly even better than your brain can currently imagine.
Ready to play? Go get your sexy oxytocin on and create some impact.
Anese Cavanaugh is the creator of the IEP Method (Intentional Energetic Presence) as well as an advisor, strategist, and thinking partner for business leaders and humans who want to optimize their leadership and how they show up in the world. Follow her @anesecavanaugh.