It's Time to be Curious


One of our values at AccessEAP is curiosity, this is particularly relevant when it comes to good relationships, mental health and diversity in workplaces. It’s easy to make quick judgements about people based on stereotypes. Psychologists say that its common for people to jump to conclusions about others, as it provides a short-cut for our thinking processes and means we can focus our mental efforts on other things.

There are many ways that mental health issues can manifest in a workplace, and some of these behaviours can be very challenging. This can create misunderstandings, assumptions and even conflict between people. For instance, someone who is frequently absent from work or irritable when they are at work, will most certainly have an impact on their team and the people responsible for managing them. It’s easy to become frustrated with this type of behaviour and label a person as “difficult” or “hard work”.

The challenge for all of us is to stop and ask questions, to be curious about the behaviour. It takes time and effort to look below the surface of someone’s behaviour. An analogy which psychologists commonly use to encourage us to better understand one another is the iceberg. Often we only see that which is above the water surface, the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We don’t see what lies beneath, and we certainly won’t understand what is under the surface if we don’t ask questions. This is where an attitude of curiosity becomes important.

If someone in your workplace is behaving in a way that bothers, frustrates or concerns you, take a pause to try to understand what’s going on. Remember our tendency to take short-cuts in thinking. Next time you find yourself doing this, pause and ask if there could be alternative explanations. Our own biases tend to come into our interpretations and assumptions. The only way to really understand why someone is behaving a certain way is to ask.

Look around at the people in your work environment and try to name three things that you know about them based on conversation or questions you have asked. What do you know and understand about them as a person? Recently we used a technique during Feel Good February. All employees were invited to use G.L.A.D as a guide to write something anonymously to another employee. G -what am I grateful for about the other person? L- what have I learned from this person? A - what do I appreciate? and D, what delights me about the person or their behaviour. Employees could write something about one or all of these. This exercise was rewarding especially because it was anonymous and a great way to inspire curiosity and to focus on the positive in each other. For more information see our G.L.A.D. blog post here.

At AccessEAP we receive requests from our customer organisations and managers for support in relation to workplace conflict, communication issues, and perceived bullying or discrimination. Often these issues are fuelled by the assumptions that people make about each other and intolerance for differences in personality, culture, beliefs, and ideas. Even something as simple as differences in approach to work tasks can create enormous tension.

When asked respectfully and with genuine curiosity, questions can improve connection and relationships. If we are mindful of the assumptions, we are making about each other, this approach can really help our understanding and improve communication in our relationships. While it requires a bit more mental effort, thinking beyond the surface could prevent a whole lot of conflict or frustration!

Sally Kirkright, CEO, AccessEAP

Business Development Manager - Sydney based
Tips on Managing Diversity