When I ask folks what they think the number one reason for divorce is, nine out of ten times the answer is “communication.” It’s easy to understand why so many feel that communication is the central issue in marriage. Most of us define communication as the exchange of words. But communication is so much more.
Communication has to have an outcome – a goal. In most cases, communication becomes an exchange of one’s personal opinions, feelings, beliefs, ideas, etc. If the only goal in communication is to express our personal thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs, we can never create the bridge necessary for true connection. Self-focused communication creates more tension and conflict.
Imagine two people have their fingers in the same door way, and the door slams shut. Whose pain are each person focused on? Now imagine those two people trying to have a conversation about their hurting fingers. There is not much empathy in two people repeating “My fingers hurt” – “Well, my fingers hurt too!” Most conflicts achieve little to no constructive progress because the focus and goal of communication for each person is themselves.
Curiosity shifts the focus off ourselves to someone else. We already know how we feel and what we probably want to say in response to someone else. This is entirely reactive, and it’s not very productive. Curiosity is the genuine and sincere desire to understand someone else. Curiosity asks questions, such as:
- “I wonder why they think that way?”
- “I wonder why they have that perspective?”
- “I wonder why that made them feel that way?”
- “I wonder what would happen if I tried to see it from their point of view?”
Curiosity is the understanding that others are not entirely like us. It is a non-judgmental state of observation for the sake of understanding. Curiosity seeks and searches the heart and mind of a person to understand the unique way they operate.
Curiosity empowers two people when they choose to set aside their differences to gain more clear understanding about each other. When two people communicate on that level, by way of patience and diligence, amazing things begin to happen. For whatever reason, most people feel threatened by the idea of setting aside their differences for a moment. But when two people can communicate on that level, empathy, compassion, understanding and connection happen much more easily.
In a great number of conflicts, most people don’t realize they are not actually in disagreement. A lot of the time, they are simply stating the same thing, just two entirely different ways. The vocabulary, tone and definitions placed on the words being used triggers the idea that there must be something wrong. Curiosity has the power to bring clarity to someone else’s communication style.
How To Be Curious
Most of us respond and react the same way we always have. We all have scripts our subconscious mind operate on called habits. This includes communication habits. So, how do we accomplish curiosity?
The first thing we must do is recognize our patterns and the way we have been attempting to communicate. Ask yourself why that hasn’t been working well. Then, the goal is to try and interrupt those habits with a new one – curiosity.
Let’s say you find yourself in a discussion that begins to feel tense. Recognize the tension and focus on what the other person is saying. Then, start asking questions like an investigator. Be sincere and genuine. You can say you don’t have a clear understanding of where they are coming from, but you want to. Ask them specific questions to help you land on the same page. You can say, “Is this what you mean?” Or you could say, “I am probably interpreting this very differently than you, but I want to see this situation the way you do.”
It’s all about understanding the other person’s unique perspective. Try hard to not get too caught up on words or statements that feel like personal jabs. And if necessary, be willing to discontinue the conversation until both individuals are in a more relaxed and calm state.
Be watchful that the conversation does not get centered around who is “right.” There are a lot of people who would rather be right than connected. That is childish and immature. There are times to sacrifice your desire to be right for the sake of protecting your marriage.
If you make curiosity the vehicle that drives communication with the focused goal of connection, your relationship will thrive in new and exciting ways. As with anything, practice creates mastery. Ask your spouse or significant other if they would commit with you to reshape communication in your relationship by increasing your curiosity.