We’ve been examining the reality that, as humans, we ascribe meaning to our experiences—meaning that transcends what actually happened. And, when we do, we set ourselves up for all kinds of relationship-threatening mischief. This principle is: What’s it really about??

I’ve heard it said this way: When it’s not about what it’s about, what could it be about?

When the reaction indicates that the “issue” is not what — on the surface — it appears to be, then you’ll be well served to wonder: “what could this really be about?”

stay curious 12In any conflict, curiosity is key to resolution.

In the Missional Pathway process that I am privileged to facilitate with my CRM team, a unique problem solving model is practiced. One component of the model, designed to illuminate the issue, is to employ the “Five Whys”. In a number of ways, ask “Why?” five times in sequence. It might play out something like this:

K: I give up! I can’t serve one more day on the board of that NGO!

A: Why? What’s happened?

K: Oh my gosh, I’m so sick of all the pressure I’m under!!

A: What’s the pressure about?

K: It’s “open season” on the Executive Director! He’s really been a jerk to a number of people and they’re all coming to me to gripe about him!

A: Yeah, OK, so tell me more about why that’s got you ready to quit?

K: Huh? Isn’t it obvious?? People are pretty hacked off at Seth and they keep dumping their garbage on me!

A: And…?

K: And when I go to Seth about it, he’s completely closed off to their feedback. He’s even beginning to act like a jerk toward me… and I’m like the only one around here who’s trying to be supportive.

A: And, how come that’s hitting you so hard right now??

K: Because I really thought that by standing in the middle, I could fix this! Er… that I could fix Seth. I mean, I guess it’s pretty unrealistic to think that I could somehow get Seth to see what he hadn’t been willing to see all this time…

A: So, maybe you’re mostly disappointed in yourself? That you couldn’t pull off this miracle this time?

K: Yeah. Kinda idealistic of me, huh? I guess I’m starting to see how mush pressure I put on myself to make this thing work. I really, really care about Seth and the organization…

Even more effective than using a technique like the Five Why’s is simply to become curious.

Let your care for this person generate genuine interest inside you about them. 

About what’s troubling them. About what’s affecting them so significantly.

Allow your curiosity to keep you from settling too quickly on the surface issue—particularly when your gut—or their reaction seems to indicate something more may be at stake.