Curiosity Killed the Coach
Professional coaching is about understanding our coachees, not satisfying our curiosity.
Ask an audience of professional coaches, “What’s the most important skill for a coach to master?” and you’re likely to hear “Curiosity! A curious coach is a great coach!” In fact, many coaches frequently interject the phrase, “I’m curious…” into their coaching sessions. There is a plethora of articles, videos and other resources highlighting the importance of curiosity for effective coaching.
Until recently, I believed that curiosity was integral to masterful coaching. However, a short conversation with my husband (who is not even remotely close to being a coach) completely changed my mind. I discovered that the widely understood definition of curiosity doesn’t describe the demeanor of a coach who is operating at their best.
During one of our morning walks, my husband and I noticed and talked about something different at a neighbor’s home. As the discussion continued, I asked him, “Are we curious right now, or are we being nosy?” His response stopped me in my tracks: “Is there really any difference between the two? Either way, it’s about what we want to know.”
What does it mean to be a “curious coach,” and how does our position of curiosity impact those we serve?
Think about curiosity for a moment. What is its purpose? Curiosity generally grows from a need within us. “I’m curious…” because I want to know. In coaching, hopefully one uses curiosity to support and help the coachee. Yet, based on what I hear from many coaching recordings that I assess, what coaches may think is curiosity serves to simply satisfy the coach’s need to know. Yet, our job isn’t to satisfy ourselves, instead, it’s to deeply understand and support our coachees.
The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” One of the most significant words in this definition is “partnering.” Does a curious coach fit the definition of a partner? Perhaps, but I believe there is something better.
If not curiosity, then what?
Instead of curiosity, the most important skill for a coach to possess is “interest” — genuine interest in the coachee. While curiosity grows from a need to satisfy something within us, interest serves as a bridge to connect us to another person. Think about that for a second. Would you rather have someone be curious about you or interested in you? Curiosity is self-focused while interest is other-focused.
The late Judith E. Glaser, founder of the Conversational Intelligence body of work, summed up this concept beautifully by emphasizing connection and under-standing, meaning standing firmly under another person’s reality just as you would stand under an umbrella. Curiosity may not entice you to connect and under-stand, but interest surely will.
Here’s a challenge for my fellow coaches: In your upcoming coaching conversations, let go of curiosity, and focus on interest. Be fully and completely interested in your coachees. It doesn’t matter what you know, what does matter is how they grow.
I liked that you started the article with acknowledging that the our collective consciousness is rising. I am curious to know if you would define self-actualization differently today that Maslow's defined?
Great article Lillian.
In fact, you drew a fine line distinguishing between what falls within the coach area, and what relates “genuinely” to the coachee.
Yes, I totally agree “Professional coaching is about understanding our coachees, not satisfying our curiosity.”
very enlightening article.
Hi, Lillian, I’m so glad you had that conversation with your husband, :). I’m a trainee coach, and this sits well with me.
Have always worked on the premise that people will share what they want to tell you, and dislike being inquisitive. But, to be genuinely interested in someone so that you can help them grow is caring. It made me smile, instantly, and I can do that! 🙂
Brilliant, thank you.
I read your article with related. Thanks. Interest is an important emotion for me as I present my coaching profession. In fact, there is a close relationship between being interested and being curious. Interest comes from being curious and connected to something. If there is no sense of curiosity, it is very difficult to reach a sense of interest. This is a state of curiosity that you want to know more about and you are drawn towards an object of interest. When we feel absolutely concerned about the person we are coaching, we are more focused on the person we are coaching.
Thank you for bringing up the topic of partnering and curiosity/interest in coaching clients.
I notice that you link being curious with self-interest/focus and ‘being interested, with other-focus and genuine caring.
I would like to suggest that while I agree totally that we are all about partnering and genuine caring for the client, I think that there may be something deeper worth looking at here.
One can be “curious” out of genuine interest as a coach, a curiosity emerging out of not wanting to assume, and wanting to facilitate greater understanding or evoke awareness of something deeper OR, as Marion Franklin and Marcia Reynolds share, one could be curious to be self-serving, to get more story, more details for one’s own sake (which is not resonant with our role as a coach). So it’s not being curious itself that is the question, but what is in the heart of the coach, their way of being in asking and be curious. Similarly, one can be interested in something the coachee says in one of two ways–selfishly or unselfishly, One can be interested to gain more information for their own sake (again not resonant with a coach’s role), or one can be interested for the sake of knowing the client and deepening the conversation, evoking awareness.
I would kindly submit that it may well be a matter of heart rather than semantics. In my personal view, one can do either–show interest, be interested OR be curious–in an unselfish and client-centered way or in a self-focused, self-interested way.
Just thinking alongside you here, and thanks again for stimulating the discussion. Warmest, K