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A Good Trade :  Judgement for Curiosity

Do you remember the scenes in Dances with Wolves where they talked about a good trade?

Don’t worry, I’m going to put them right here, doesn’t Kevin Costner look young?


I spent this past week in training with 12 other professionals.  This training, creating emotional safe spots, is a High River idea that we are making a reality – we are good at that in High River.  The idea is to create places in town – in the social agencies for now – that are a safe spot to come to if you are struggling.  They will be designated by an orange dot and the idea is to make seeking help – even if it’s just a question on whether you actually need help- even easier.  More on that in the months to come but for not I want to talk about the good trade.

We talked a lot about helping this week, we talked about difficult conversations and mental health and we talked about self-care for helpers.  A common thread in all of these was a mind shift – making the choice to trade judgement for curiosity.

Such a small shift, and not always easy, but incredibly effective.

Curiosity opens conversation which leads to understanding.  We all want to be heard, we all want to be understood, and none of us wants to be judged.  That feeling you get when someone makes an assumption about you is horribly frustrating – even rage inducing, and usually leads to relationship breakdown.

Most things can be understood if we have all of the information.  So if this is so helpful, why is it so hard?

We’ve been primed to make judgments, some of them planted there by parents and teachers, some of them just common to our culture or the society we grew up in.  Judgement is faster than curiosity, judgment sometimes feels safer – maybe we don’t want to know all of the information, especially if it feels like someone might judge us!

Great counselling and coaching is based in curiosity, but so are good friendships and relationships in general.  Our brains are incredibly fast acting and always trying to make sense of its surroundings, it often makes connections based on similarities – things such as “men don’t like talking” or “teenagers who hang out at 7-11 are up to no good” based on prior knowledge or experience.  When we slow it down and take more into consideration these may be true or not.  You can see how both of these assumptions would change how you act- glaring at the kids, or choosing not to talk to your husband, often reinforcing the original idea.

Anyone who has worked with people with special needs knows that the curiosity of little kids is so much more appreciated than the condemning faces that adults sometimes have.  That tantrum in the grocery store may be a symptom of a neurological difference rather than a sign of someone who needs a good swat!  Your co-worker who is sneaking away early every day may be looking after a sick parent and not just trying to cheat the system… Your kid might be struggling at school and afraid to tell you rather than being a moody stay in your room teen.  A willingness to at least suspend judgement – not make a decision until you know a little more, is generous – and fruitful.

An attitude of openness and questions that are respectful of the person have the potential to bring you to a solution you can’t have imagined on your own.  It’s not all about questions, but the right kind of questions “Why the heck are you doing that?” is not curious. “What’s going on?” is a closer to the mark.  I mentioned it was also a thread in self care, how often do we jump to conclusions about ourselves.  If I’m making a lot of mistakes at work I might thing “I’m so stupid”, where if I asked myself “what is going on with me?” I might realize I haven’t been sleeping or I”m really stressed about something.  Curiosity opens the door.

So here’s the challenge for this week, make the good trade.

  1. Notice when you are judging.
  2. Choose curiosity instead.
  3. Open up the conversation.
  4. Let us know in the comments how it goes.

Have a great week High River and area, I’m curious about you…