While there are many recognised elements to employee engagement including leadership, culture, opportunities for advancement etc. and that tapped into Discretionary Effort is one of the best measures of engagement, I'd like to propose a fresh angle.
At its' most granular we could say engagement is a reflection of how "present" people are in that moment. And, for this article, I'd like to suggest being present is simply the absence of distraction. Like focus it’s not so much something you do but rather the ability keep your mind here, now. To be in flow or in the zone.
When people are truly present, they're not worrying about last week's pay, why Bob's a jerk or comparing this sunset to the one they saw in Greece three years ago. In the moment (watching a sunset for example), comparing it, photographing it or taking a selfie would be signs that you’re no longer present and a step down in your enjoyment of the occasion.
Mindfulness, a good joke or a punch in the arm can all help bring us to the present. So too can curiosity!
So, let's have a quick look at how curiosity might improve engagement and why many traditional approaches to management and leadership fail to engage as well as they could.
Telling people what or how to do might be fast but is also, arguably, the least effective way to engage. One-way telling puts the onus on the speaker to do all the hard work. And, no matter how good a job you might think you’re doing, it’s also possible that some of those rapturous expressions you’re feeding off are people dreaming of how they’ll spend their lottery winnings.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. But what if you made it thirsty first?
Educators and managers have tried to overcome this low-level engagement and encourage people to pay attention and listen with well-intentioned but rather clumsy tools like threatening exams, praise or other “carrots and sticks”.
At Curiousmind however, we would argue that the most leveraged form of engagement is by asking questions. When we pose a question, several neurological triggers are activated in the audience. Firstly, we’re programmed from very young (it may even be instinctive) to respond to a question. The moment we detect a question we shift from passive observers to active participants as our brains engage to find an appropriate answer. Secondly, when our questions are curious or well designed, we can engage people's curiosity, inviting them to look deeper, to analyse or even reflect on their current assumptions on the issue. And thirdly, we can facilitate Discoveries, where the audience feel like they have found their solutions to a problem. These Discoveries (ah-ha moments) are an influencers' best moments because we tend to own our ideas.
“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Picasso
There is one more level where we can know with absolute confidence that our audience is deeply engaged. Sometimes it's simply easier or more practical to tell people what's required. In these instances, the way to ensure they listen to every word is by having them see your telling as an answer (with the same content)! When people come to us with genuine questions, they’ve demonstrated engagement and primed themselves to listen.
If you’ve ever wondered about those bored, disengaged students / employees it might be worth asking yourself, how would you feel listening to answers to questions you hadn’t asked?
In a following blog, we'll discuss how to cultivate a culture of curiosity (at home, school or at work) where everyone engages, where questions are seen as more valuable than answers and where learning is both the goal and the journey.