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3 ways leaders can use curiosity effectively

Curiosity is a tool that can work for you or against you. The key is to understand how to use curiosity to your advantage.

3 min read


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Recently while working with a midlevel leader, I noticed that, even though this manager was using questions to coach his employees, his curiosity worked against him.

Sometimes his questions seemed disingenuous, and at other times he seemed to use curiosity as a way to point out a flaw rather than to get understanding. We’ve all experienced someone asking us a question where it seemed the intention was catch us in a mistake or prove us wrong, yet we can be guilty of the same mistakes.

Curiosity is a tool that can work for you or against you. The key is to understand how to use curiosity to your advantage. Here are three skills you must develop to master the tool of curiosity: Setting the right intention, asking the right question and listening.

Setting the right intention

Every question has an intention behind it. Most of us can “feel” an intention even if it isn’t consciously or clearly stated. Intentions range from being nosy, to getting revenge, to proving someone wrong, to a genuine need to learn or understand. The key to uncovering unconscious intentions within yourself is through self-awareness. If there are any traces of resentment or negativity, check your intentions before asking the question. Before getting curious, it helps to remember that timing is everything, but the key to asking a question is to start from the right intention.

Asking the right question

Not all questions are equal. Questions can be probing, provocative or pushy (your intention sets the tone here). Regarding pace, there are two types of questions: close-ended and open-ended.

Close-ended question: “Do you enjoy your job?”
Open-ended question: “Tell me about your experience doing this job?”

In short, a close-ended question requires a yes or no answer, while an open-ended question requires explanation and deeper listening. There is a time and a place for both, and knowing this distinction helps you to direct the conversation.


All types of leaders struggle with listening. The type A, may be impatient and find listening difficult, therefore they multitask, cut people off, interrupt or abruptly end the conversation. Conversely, calm and mild-mannered leaders tend to lose control of the conversation or get distracted into taking on other people’s problems. Learning how to listen from the right intention helps guide the conversation and helps you to get to the desired end result.


Curiosity must come from the right intention. Know your intention, and communicate your intention before asking important questions. Ask the right kind of questions to give you the information you need, whether it is closed-ended or open ended. Finally, listen and stay present.

Doing all the work of asking the right question from the right intention at the right time is a waste if you interrupt, disagree, or get distracted. And letting someone go on and on when you only need a “yes” or a “no” is equally ineffective. Great leadership requires mastering the tool of curiosity.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her at and Connect on Linked InFacebook and Twitter.

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