Asking Versus Telling: The Power of Curiosity

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No one likes to be told what to do.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone told you what to do or how to think, and you felt frustrated or resentful? Conversely, have you ever felt truly seen and heard when someone asked you a thoughtful question and listened to your answer? The difference between telling and asking may seem subtle, but it can have a profound impact on our relationships, learning, and growth.

The Problem with Telling

Telling can be problematic for several reasons. For one, it can come across as bossy or arrogant, as if the person doing the telling assumes they know best. Additionally, telling can shut down conversation and limit possibilities. When we tell someone what to do or think, we’re essentially imposing our own ideas onto them, which can be disrespectful and disempowering.

For example, imagine you’re working on a group project, and one team member insists on doing everything their way without considering others’ input. This person may be confident in their own abilities, but they’re also dismissing the potential value of others’ perspectives and skills. As a result, the team may end up with a suboptimal outcome or even fail altogether.

The Power of Asking

Asking, on the other hand, can be a game-changer. When we ask questions, we show interest, respect, and a desire to learn. Asking can also foster collaboration, creativity, and empathy. By asking others what they think, feel, or need, we can broaden our own understanding and find common ground.

For example, imagine you’re in a disagreement with a friend about a political issue. Instead of trying to convince them of your own viewpoint, you ask them questions about why they hold their beliefs and what experiences have shaped them. By doing so, you may discover that you have more in common than you thought, or at least gain a deeper appreciation for their perspective.

The Importance of Curiosity

Curiosity is the fuel that drives the asking process. When we’re curious, we’re more likely to seek out information, challenge assumptions, and embrace uncertainty. Curiosity also has practical benefits, such as enhancing memory, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

For example, think of the many scientific breakthroughs that have been made possible by curiosity-driven inquiry. From penicillin to the Higgs boson particle, these discoveries were not the result of someone telling others what to find, but rather of someone asking a question and pursuing it relentlessly.

Applying these Principles in Everyday Life

So how can we incorporate asking and curiosity in our everyday interactions? Here are a few tips:

  • Practice active listening: When someone is speaking, give them your full attention and try to understand their perspective before responding. Listen longer than you are used to and don’t plan the next words you will say. 
  • Reframe assumptions as questions: Instead of assuming you know the answer or solution, ask yourself and others questions that can lead to deeper levels of understanding.
  • Seek out diverse perspectives:  Make an effort to engage with people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints than your own. Ask them questions that can broaden your own understanding.

By applying these principles, we can cultivate stronger relationships, learn more effectively, and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.

Asking versus telling may seem like a small distinction, but it can make a big difference in how we connect with others and navigate the world around us. By embracing curiosity and approaching others with questions rather than directives, we can open up new possibilities and tap into our own potential for growth and discovery.