Tag Archives: humble inquiry

The DOs & DON’Ts of Curious Listening: Tell Me More

If you are a leader, you are in the relationship business. Whether a colleague, client, vendor, front-line worker, or networking connection, you interact with people every day. If, in your interactions, you are mindful about making a human connection, you will establish the foundation for a positive, beneficial relationship. A key to making that connection is listening—and listening takes practice.

Curious Listening

Edgar Schein refers to Humble Inquiry as asking questions from an attitude of genuine curiosity and interest about the other person. In this post, we will focus on the listening part of Humble Inquiry. We call it “curious listening.” This type of listening is more than just hearing or being attentive and it is not the kind of listening where you expect to gain knowledge. It is a higher level of listening that Otto Scharmer describes as “seeing from our deepest source” and what Daniel Goleman refers to as “emotional empathy.”

Perfecting the skill of curious listening takes time and it takes active energy. Practice by being intentional about the following DOs & DON'Ts:


The aim of curious listening is not about what we hear, per se; it is about the other person feeling valued.

If leaders approach an interaction with the mindset that the conversation is worthwhile, then the other person will feel “listened to” and a connection is made.

Preparing to Listen: Mindful Mindsets

Prepare for curious listening by taking the time to stop, slow down, and consider the following mindsets (or mantras, if you will):

  • This person is worth listening to
  • I don’t know how this conversation is going to unfold, but I want to connect with this person
  • I will listen for who they are and what they are about
  • I will be curious about what they say
  • I will try to sense their perspectives, feelings, actions, and desires
How to Get Better at Curious Listening

Perfecting the skill of curious listening takes time and it takes active energy. Practice by being intentional about the following DOs & DON’Ts:

  • ignore your internal noise and thoughts
  • listen to the other person’s words and their impact on you
  • sense how the other person is feeling
  • formulate a response in your mind
  • think about advice, opinions, or solutions
  • silently judge or criticize the person or what they are saying
  • feel the need to memorize anything they say

Questions to Deepen Thinking

What would happen to your interactions if you focused on curiosity and did not think ahead about your response?
What will you get if you try this script the next time you interact with someone? “Hmm… Tell me more!”
What are the consequences of not truly listening to the people you interact with?


Brady, M. (Ed.). (2003). The wisdom of listening. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Goleman, D. (2013, December). The Focused Leader:How effective executives direct their own – and their organization’s – attention. Harvard Business Review.
Scharmer, O. Theory U. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from Presencing Institute: https://www.presencing.com/theoryu#sthash.FJ1oQJk3.dpuf
Schein, E. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Related Posts

Networking: 4 Steps to Making Strategic Connections
Thinking Partners: A Concept and a Compact
Mutual Inquiry: 8 Steps to Deepen & Shift Thinking

Networking: 4 Steps to Making Strategic Connections

Strategic contacts are often people with whom you have no mutual connection. The bad news: For many, reaching out to these people is an overwhelming task that causes high anxiety. The good news: It can be mastered with structure and practice and it has a high return on investment.  

Once you have identified people to connect with, what do you say to them? How do you introduce yourself? The more you practice the following steps the easier it will get and the more likely you are to make it part of your ongoing leadership practice.4 steps to making strategic connections: Initial Contact, Curious Listening, 2-minute story, & follow-up

4 Steps to Make a Connection

1. Initial Contact: Whether in person or electronically, use your commitment statement as a way to introduce yourself and ask for a meeting. Tell them what you are committed to, what you are passionate about, and what you are working towards. Mention your common connection and request some time to meet. For example:

“I got your name from … I am committed to … so that … Can we meet for coffee to talk more?”

2. Your Story: During the “get-acquainted” meeting, share your 2-minute story of commitment so the other person can learn about you. Tell them about a challenge you overcame, your shared purpose, and your desired future. For example:

“I’d like to tell you a story… I share this because … is important to us … Imagine if … Please join me … ”

3. Their Story: Use curious listening to learn about the other person. Everyone has a story to tell. Encourage them to share theirs. Ask questions and listen. Look for something that resonates with you– work or non work related. People most often bond through interactions about personal interests, not technical ones. For example:

“I’m curious … Tell me more … Go on … That is interesting … ”

4. Follow-up: Show your appreciation by thanking them for the meeting using ongoing regard. Describe specifics about the meeting and then describe what impact it had on you. Written notes are best, but email also works. For example:

“Thank you … I appreciate …What you said/did … It made a difference in …”

 Questions to Deepen Thinking

  • How are you doing with making new connections?
  • What would happen to your leadership practice if you stopped strategic networking?
  • Have you ever tried to make a connection simply by being curious about the other person?Credits
Battilana, J. & Casciaro, T. (2013, July-August). The network secrets of great change agents. Harvard Business Review.
Ibarra, H. & Hunter, M. (2007, January). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business review.
Kegan, R. &. Lahey, L. (2001). How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Uzzi, B. & Dunlap, S. (2005, December). How to build your network. Harvard Business Review.

Related Posts

Strategic Networking: ABCs of Choosing Your Connections
Networking: 5 Circles of Influence
How Leaders Inspire & Motivate: 2-Minute Story of Commitment
Setting Meaningful Goals: 3 Components of a Commitment
The DOs and DON’Ts of Curious Listening: Tell Me More
Ongoing Regard: Boost the Power of your Thank You