How was your holiday break? Did you spend time with relatives? See any good movies? Go anywhere special? And why am I asking all these questions, anyway?
Honestly, I hope your holiday activities were fun and restful, whatever you did. But I’m asking these questions to demonstrate one of the best ways to boost your curiosity quotient.
New research published in the fall of 2014 shows that the more curiosity you have about a topic, the better you’ll remember what you learn about it.
Curiosity is an important human trait because it helps overwrite fears and drives engagement. And when your engagement increases, so does personal satisfaction and productivity. Curiosity is also an important ingredient in sales success.
According to Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., who teaches psychology at George Mason University, and is the author of “Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life,” people who exhibit high levels of curiosity experience higher levels of satisfaction and a greater sense of meaning in life.
Curiosity, like other facets of personality, is a stable trait. Some people are innately more curious than others. But anyone can boost their level of curiosity. The first step is to recognize the things that stifle it. And it’s not a short list.
Social pressures and fear of failure and the unknown are big wet blankets when it comes to dampening curiosity’s fire. The urge to be compliant, certain, or right inhibits our natural curiosity. So does anxiety. A mind fixed on competition or preoccupied with “getting it right” also dampens curiosity.
When you’re curious about something, it acts as a positive counterweight to the anxiety and fear that hold you back from investigating that something.
Research has shown situations that evoke lots of anxiety often lead to the most intense and longest-lasting positive experiences. New jobs, personal relationships, and travel to unfamiliar places all start with the unknown. There’s often a scary component to engaging with new people and situations.
The antidote to social hesitation is to just jump in. By embracing uncertainty and surprise instead of clinging to familiar assumptions and fearful habits, you energize curiosity and conquer anxiety.
Think about how many positive experiences you’ve had that began with a feeling of doubt, uncertainty, or surprise.
Going past that initial inhibiting doubt and letting curiosity carry you forward shifts the focus from negative preconceptions (being ignored, snubbed, or failing to get traction with a sales prospect, for example) to positive expectations (meeting new people, learning about another company or even landing a new account).
What curiosity does for you
Curiosity drives connection — with people, situations and the world in general. Needless to say, you can’t sell anything if you’re not engaged and reaching out. Openness and genuine interest makes it possible to form and maintain more satisfying and enduring social and business relationships.
Curiosity motivates you— to explore situations and use your powers of observation more fully. Instead of settling for the status quo, a more curious person is inclined to investigate new possibilities. The best sales people have high levels of curiosity. They ask lots of questions to uncover each prospect’s needs and the driving force behind them.
Curiosity sparks the desire to learn and gain experience— which leads to developing expertise and mastery. Buyers – especially in service fields like insurance – want to deal with experienced people who know the ropes and can provide insights and creative solutions to their challenges.
Exercises to foster curiosity
As with other personality traits like confidence and passion, people have different levels of curiosity. And like most other traits, curiosity can be cultivated. One of the best ways to do that is to let curiosity soar freely by asking lots of questions.
As curiosity increases you gain more power over social anxiety and other factors that inhibit it. Here are five more ways to strengthen your “curiosity muscle:”
1. Let everyday boring situations be your training ground. Instead of checking email or picking up the latest issue of US magazine when you’re standing in the checkout line, use the time to notice the details of what’s going on around you. How does that conveyer belt work? What’s the technique for loading the shopping bags? How is the packaging for those cereal boxes created? (Important note: noticing isn’t judging. How often are our observations merely stale opinions and repeated thought patterns?)
2. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Make an effort to notice details, shadows, alignments and juxtaposition of commonplace objects. If you’re accustomed to using your camera phone, try seeing and framing things differently. For some cool examples of photos of everyday things seen in new ways, Googlemiksang photography.
3. Change boring to interesting. Take something you generally don’t pay attention to – a food, place, object, or even a person – and notice three novel things about it. Focusing on details you typically ignore engages interest and brings curiosity into play.
4. Get to know some different people. Instead of having lunch with the same folks as you usually do, team up with someone new and don’t talk about the same old topics. Make it a point to ask your lunch partners about three things you don’t usually discuss. Listen carefully and ask engaging questions. Your companion will appreciate your interest and you’ll reinforce your curious instinct.
5. Find ways to gamify boring activities. I recently heard a story about an assembly line potato chip inspector who invented a way to make the work interesting by searching for chips resembling famous people and animals. Engaging her curiosity to scan for lookalikes made the time move more quickly and resulted in a collection of potato chips that actually got her a guest spot on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show back in 1987.
So appreciate and cultivate your curious instincts. Let your curiosity be a bridge for engaging with others and accelerating your sales success.
Joe Arak is President of Professional Marketing Associates, based in Amherst, Mass. PMA provides a range of marketing resources for producers and agencies throughout the country. If you’re curious to learn more you can check out PMA at www.pmaadvantage.com, or reach Joe at [email protected] or 413-230-3155.