The author and entrepreneur, Seth Godin, often says that you can’t be curious when you’re angry. The first couple of times that I heard it, I wasn’t entirely sure what he meant but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
When we’re angry, our world view becomes polarised. We see everything in black and white.
“This shouldn’t have happened.”
“You’re wrong. I’m right.”
“You need to sort this out… immediately.”
Even when we ask questions, we are often not really listening to the answers.
There is no grey when we are angry.
Reality is not black and white
Some could argue that the clarity of seeing things in black and white could be a good thing. Perhaps anger could heighten our ability to see things clearly and to take decisive action.
The problem is that reality is never black and white, even if we sometimes perceive it to be. What feels like clarity in times of anger is actually a fog that blinds us from seeing a wider perspective.. Looking into the fog, we can see very little of the true nature of the problem or the variety of solutions that may be available.
We all face difficult situations in our lives, whether at home or at work. It is in these times of difficulty that we are most likely to feel angry, but it is also when we most need the ability to see the full picture.
We need to see into the grey
Curiosity is about looking in the grey – to question constructively, to listen, and to think before jumping to conclusions. When we are truly curious, we seek to understand the subtle details, to understand different sides of the story, and to look at problems from more than one angle.
“What exactly is the problem that we are trying to solve?”
“What happened in the run up to this event?”
“Is this even a problem?”
“Can we imagine any positive outcomes that may be possible?”
“What resources do we have at our disposal to fix this?”
It is when we look in the grey that we deepen our understanding of the problem, of the factors that may compound, alleviate, cause, prevent and solve the problem. It is in the grey that we find the most creative solutions to not just solve problems, but sometimes even to turn them into opportunities for positive change.
Curiosity trumps anger
Curiosity is creative and it is productive. When we enquire into a situation with true curiosity, we not only learn about the situation and improve our own ability to think creatively, but we also earn the trust of those around us and empower them to be more curious and creative. Curiosity helps strengthen teams and bond people together around a mission to find real solutions.
Anger on the other hand is blind and destructive. It not only impedes our own ability to find the most positive and constructive solutions, but an angry person is like kryptonite, beaming harmful radiation at those around them and hampering their powers to save the day. It tears teams apart, creating a culture of fear and blame in which the goal is to avoid trouble rather than to create something amazing.
When we develop a habit of expressing curiosity as our first response to problems, we leave little space for anger to creep in. To make any project, business or relationship successful we must overcome a great many challenges and steer difficult situations to positive outcomes. Curiosity is the best tool that we have to achieve this.
Next time you face a difficult situation, pause for a moment, take a deep breath and try to awaken your curiosity.