Embrace Curiosity!

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issue06 / Bernhard Kerres

Toward the end of a coaching session, I ask my clients what they are taking away from our conversation. This often directs the remaining part of our session toward a concrete action plan. I round it up by asking clients how committed they are to their action plans on a scale from one to ten. This allows me to anchor the action plan further by asking clients what they need to move their commitment two digits higher. After all, coaching is all about forward-looking, taking responsibility, and putting the first steps into place.

This follows Whitmore’s GROW model (Whitmore, 1992, p. 96ff), which we all know and often use. GROW stands for:

  • Goal: What do you want?
  • Reality: Where are you now?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Will: What will you do?

Whitmore expands on Will – What will you do? – and suggests that it takes two stages. The first stage is setting up accountability. He suggests the definition of concrete actions, a period, and measures to understand whether or not the goal was reached. Like many others, Whitmore recommends measuring actions objectively wherever possible. The second stage is all about follow-up, feedback, and learning. We can learn from any outcome, regardless of whether we have reached our goals or not. Good review processes start with establishing a timeline and the facts before evaluating the outcome. This helps us to identify more learning points.

I am writing this article at the beginning of the New Year. Social media is full of New Year’s resolutions and advice on how to make them happen. Friends and colleagues spent much time reviewing their achievements of the outgoing year and distilling learning from that. It is often impressive what people have done in a single year and the differences they have made. Many people set their goals for the coming year. Coaches provide guidance in setting these goals and tools to choose the right ones.

But something feels wrong to me. I miss authenticity and a more realistic view. Do we always need to set ourselves objectives for a new year, to-dos after a coaching session, etc.? GROW is very much focused on the individual. It is anchored in the belief that individuals want to and can develop and change. And I agree with that.

Still, it misses an amazing human feature – curiosity. Recent neurological studies have shown that curiosity is as closely related to another basic human feature: hunger (Lau et al., 2020). Curiosity is of similar importance to our human life as being hungry. One could call it being hungry to learn and explore. So, how can we use curiosity in our coaching process?

Curiosity, similar to creativity, needs space and time to flourish. Curiosity does not like boundaries but rather enjoys going beyond perceived limitations. Curiosity grows when the path and the outcome are still unclear. We are much more interested in what is behind a closed door than an open one. When we can see the street ahead of us for hundreds of miles, we become bored. But exploring what is hidden behind a bend becomes fascinating again.

As coaches, we potentially limit natural curiosity by driving too fast toward concrete actions. Instead of “What will you do?” we might ask, “What will you explore?” or “What are you curious about?”

For the New Year, resolutions might be less important than returning to one’s curiosity. This cannot be done in a standard coaching setting. Curiosity comes when we are in different places, in nature, or somewhere new. Curiosity is not directed toward a goal but enjoys the world around us. Curiosity grows when we use all our senses to explore something new, even if we do not know where it will take us. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling are more important than setting up yet another action plan. This exploration allows us to discover new connections and patterns. We start seeing the world from different perspectives.

Uncovering connections and patterns will lead clients to much more meaningful actions that are emotionally anchored and not just another to-do list. As coaches, we can encourage our clients’ curiosity and work with it ourselves. Shouldn’t we be more curious about where our clients’ journeys take them than focus too soon on concrete actions? Curiosity is often rewarded by surprises. I love to be surprised by my clients who teach me vastly different approaches to a topic than I ever would have thought of. This might lead to a much richer client–coach relationship, which is more on an eye-to-eye level and a joined learning journey.

I am looking forward to hearing where your curiosity will take you and your clients!

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