Are you dealing with a challenging problem now? Do you see one coming up in the future? Or maybe you’ve recently resolved a problem. Problems are pretty common, so it’s not unusual to be in one of those boats at any time.
When we have a problem, it doesn’t always occur to us that we can choose how we approach it. Instead, our automatic responses kick in. Maybe dread is familiar to you, as in, “What else will go wrong?” Resentment is common too, “Why does this always happen to me?” And then there’s pessimism, “It’s going to be a disaster.”
We may not have much choice in those immediate feelings, but Dr. Glasser suggests that we do have some control. We can choose our thoughts and actions, and through those, change our feelings. But, what would we want to change to?
In situations that call for problem-solving, I’ve found one useful approach is to choose curiosity. For example, when a device doesn’t work, whether it’s the pump, the lights, the computer, etc., a useful question is, “I wonder why?” This might sound obvious now, but when bad things are happening, it can be easier to fall into resentment or fear rather than to choose curiosity.
However, if you build the habit of being curious during the good times, then you’re more likely to think curiously when something goes wrong. Curiosity is a worthwhile habit to build, because while the “curious approach” is useful for fixing things, it is also surprisingly helpful in relationships. How?
When we believe that we know someone, it can be a shock to find out that they don’t agree with us. Stressful situations can bring differences to light that might otherwise remain dormant. For example, during the pandemic, some people were astonished by views expressed by people that they thought shared their values.
When we’re faced with difficult problems, our differences in attitudes toward money, work, faith, politics, culture, even life and death, can emerge. Those differences can make stressful situations even more difficult.
Instead of fuming, “How can they be so wrong?” try some curiosity. In the best case, it could reduce the opportunity for conflict. If nothing else, you’ll learn something about the other person.
How would curiosity play out in a conversation? You could try this question, “Obviously you have a reason for believing this. Would you mind telling me what it is?”
Some conflicts are based on the simple fact that different people have different values. They have different world views and are exposed to different information and influences. Taking an attitude of, “I wonder why they hold that view?” can reduce the urge toward negative judgements.
Exploring, really learning about other people and their beliefs about the big questions of life can be fascinating. It may even help the relationship grow closer as both people come to understand why they hold their differing views.
But I’ll also offer a cautionary note. Getting to really know someone could bring us closer together, or it could take us further apart. What if we learn that we have irreconcilable differences? What if we have deeply opposing views on issues that matter? Do we want to maintain this relationship?
Curiosity is wonderful. It can keep us engaged, alert, reduce boredom and frustration. It can help us build closer relationships and clarify differences. What we do with the information we receive is our choice.
Are you curious about the people around you?
Welcome to Reality Check:
articles and observations inspired by the work of Dr. William Glasser
- Choosing Behaviour
- Choosing Perspective
- Control and Choice
- Develop Understanding
- Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Physiology
- How it is sometimes
- Love & Belonging
- Perception & Reality
- Personal Freedom