"Curiosity is the lust of the mind." — Thomas Hobbes
It’s obvious in retrospect, but I found a distinction between low-friction communication and high-friction communication.
By low-friction, I mean "person A" doesn’t have to work that hard for "person B" to get a point.
It’s an unproductive energy drain.
There’s a better way.
It’s along the lines of Covey’s "seek first to understand, then to be understood."
Low Friction and High-Friction Communication Scenarios
I see a huge difference between low-friction and high-friction communication scenarios:
- Low-friction scenarios. I find low friction scenarios are often cases where "person B" starts with the mind-set "how might that be true" and they help "person A" tease out, or make their point. The starting point is collaboration — two people working to understand the message. This is an example of empathic listening … Person A talks until they *feel* heard.
- High-friction scenarios. I find high-friction scenarios are often cases where *person B* starts with the mind-set "let me tell you how you’re wrong." Person A never *feels* heard, there’s no rapport and the conversation instantly shifts to attacking and defending.
Ask Yourself, “How Might That Be True?”
It’s really easy among a bunch of engineers to rip ideas apart. The trick I found is to first ask, "how might that be true?" This gets over the potential hump that maybe while the delivery was off, there was merit in the message (or a concept needs help to be teased out) and it certainly builds more rapport than starting off as a devil’s advocate.
I’m certainly a fan of beating up and pressure testing ideas, but only after understanding what they actually are. I also make sure that it’s about testing the idea, not attacking the person.
Benefits of a Curious Mindset
The key benefits include:
- Avoid the black hat critic label. More people will bring you their ideas. If you are the naysayer or the idea slayer, you get tagged as the "black hat" critic. I’ve found more cultures value smart optimism than black hat critics. The reality is being a black hat critic is easy and it’s only one slice of the pie. Smart optimism means you can see the full spectrum of the idea including the upsides, the downsides, the facts and figures, business feasibility, the emotional response … etc.
- Rapport and trust. When you have trust, the conversation is more objective and less an ego play.
- Reduce conflict, improve collaboration. You spend energy on thinking, not debating. You waste less of your energy in debate and you spend more of it in critical thinking.
Key Tools for Testing Assumptions
Aside from simply asking yourself, "how might that be true?", there’s a few tools you can use for this:
- PMI (see How To Use the PMI Technique)
- Six-Thinking Hats (see How To Use the Six Thinking Hats)
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