Over the past two decades, my colleagues and I have found that people engage the most when we start with what they know from their own experience and with what they care about most. This means that we start all interactions with these questions, in some form: What do you know about this, from your own experience?; and Why do you care so much about this? With both questions, we have found that we can tap into each individual’s deeper curiosity, which it seems is deeply connected to the will they give to a future they love.
We find that starting with these two questions is infinitely more powerful than starting with answers. Yet, most people seem to start with answers that they want others to understand and engage in than starting with questions. You can try this for yourself, and let me know what you see. What happens when you ask someone what they know about something they are working on with you, from their own experience? Can you find a way to connect, through further inquiry, their experience to what you are working on? What happens when you ask someone why they care about what they are working on? And, why they care about that?
We find that very quickly we discover that people already know many things that they don’t realize they know, from their own experience, so you don’t have to try to convince them. They just told themselves that they already knew that, consciously or unconsciously. And when we ask people what they really care about, we find that people in a given situation are usually more deeply aligned than they originally thought. We have two frameworks for working with these two questions.
In the 37-word diagram, we suggest that people interact, period. In their interactions, they have an experience and they achieve outcomes. What happens in these interactions is determined in great part by the agreements underlying how they interact. From their own experience, they actually know a lot about the experience they are having, the outcomes they are achieving, and the underlying agreements they have consciously chosen or unconsciously accepted. This framework works with the question of what do you know from your own experience.
In the O Process, we start with the question of what people in a given effort most care about, seeking the deeper shared purpose that pulls them tougher. With clarity about this deeper shared purpose, we have achieved amazingly resilient impacts: without that clarity, people achieve very little and are usually highly disengaged.
So, on our better days, we start with a deep, “I wonder.” That opens the space for our own reflections and those of and with others; a powerful place to start.