Tip #90  Curiosity

Curiosity is…

  • a state in which you want to learn more about something
  • an emotion related to inquisitive behavior
  • the tendency to ask questions, investigate or explore
  • the desire to know what is happening or has happened

The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity.

Ellen Parr

Replacing judgment with curiosity
is a key element in becoming unstuck

Francie White

It is the “cure” for boredom, as in the quote above.  It is also a cure for anxiety, stuckness and feeling overwhelmed.  It focuses attention on the subject of the curiosity. When we are anxious about the unknown, it is useful to focus attention on what we do know and we can do this with curiosity. Curiosity, then, has the effect of teasing apart the elements that contribute to anxiety or stuckness or feeling overwhelmed. (See Tip #33, What We Can Do and What We Can’t, in Practice Workbook, Vol. 2).

Fear and curiosity are unable to exist together. When we’re overwhelmed with anxiety or fear, curiosity is absent. Conversely, when we follow our inquisitive nature, fear rarely comes up. We can use this dichotomy with our clients. For example, when we direct our clients’ attention with curiosity to the tastes and textures of foods, they let go, even if briefly, of an over-focus on calories or fear of gaining weight.

Our natural curiosity comes out when we meet a new client. We tap into this as we explore such things as what this person needs from us, his understanding of his condition and what is most important to him.  Tip #20, Unpacking Meaning, (in Practice Workbook, Vol. 1) has more detail on this process. It can be challenging to tap back into this curiosity periodically with an ongoing client. We may think we know all about this person and what makes him tick. Well, we don’t. There is always more to discover. With clients, shift back over and over into that place of not knowing. (See Tip #66, What You Don’t Know Can Help You.)

Many of our clients are ambivalent about making the changes we recommend and so get stuck.  Often they don’t know what keeps them stuck. Eventual change emerges when the many elements of the ambivalence are examined and accepted. We invite our clients to do this by steadfastly maintaining a curious stance and letting go of the need to “fix” it right away. For more on this process, see Tips #55, Working With Ambivalence to Change, #35, What to Do When Stuck (in Practice Workbook, Vol. 2), and#57, Steady Clients Who Aren’t Making Changes.

Curiosity has the effect of encouraging acceptance of what is true. A basic model for changing troublesome behaviors is to accept the impulse behind the behavior while still wishing to decrease the behavior.  Monitoring the behavior with curiosity to learn more about the impulse implies acceptance of it. (See Tip #12, The Power of Acceptance in Practice Workbook, Vol. 1)

Counselors can adjust their language to encourage a process of curiosity. Using curious language with a client who is stuck in a rigid way of looking at something reframes the situation. (See Tip #10, Reframing, in Practice Workbook, Vol. 1)

For example:

  • “Let’s remain curious about that…”
  • “Imagine with me…”
  • “Hmm, that makes me curious about…”
  • “Would you be willing to explore that more with me?”

It is tricky when clients ask us personal questions or challenge our expertise or ability to help them. Our defenses come up, and we want to defend ourselves or argue or make excuses. These are not professional responses and have the effect of digging us in deeper. Hard though it may be, taking a deep breath and responding from a stance of curiosity is most professional and useful. Tips #18, Personal Questions (in Practice Workbook, Vol. 1), and #32, When a Client Challenges Your Expertise (in Practice Workbook, Vol. 2), have examples.

Another time to bring up your curiosity is when you are getting feedback on your work. This may include your annual performance evaluation or listening to a session recording (see Tip #73) or reviewing customer service feedback cards. It is easy to get defensive or feel shame in these situations. The feedback will be most useful when you approach it with open curiosity. It is always up to you which pieces of feedback you choose to integrate as you grow.


Change is least apt to happen when someone is feeling judged (or judging himself). “Why” questions are usually heard as judgment. Even when our question comes from genuine curiosity on our part, the client feels it as a judgment. When we reword our questions to “How…” and “What…” the client’s curiosity is elicited, too. (See Tip #17, available in Practice Workbook, Vol. 1)

Our natural curiosity leads us to ask questions. This is well and good. As professionals, our curiosity is directed to the benefit of the client. It may be tempting to ask questions that are of interest to you that do not further the client’s needs. For example, your client refers to a favorite restaurant. You like eating out, so your curiosity causes you to ask the name and location. This would be completely appropriate in conversation with a friend. It does not serve the client, so you instead ask questions that direct the client toward her goals. For example, “Would you like to discuss how to eat out healthfully?” or “How does this place compare to other restaurants for finding the foods that work for you?”

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