Being Curious About People
4 tips on how to learn from every person.
Academy-award winning movie producer Brian Glazer is passionate about “curiosity conversations.”
“For 35 years, I’ve been tracking down people about whom I was curious and asking if I could sit down with them for an hour,” he writes in his recent book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. “I was so serious about the curiosity conversations that I often spent a year or more trying to arrange a meeting with particular people...I want to understand what makes people tick; I want to see if I can connect a person’s attitude and personality with their work, with their challenges and accomplishments.”
Glazer has met writers, activists, scientists, surgeons, astronauts and athletes. And some of these conversations have provided the foundations for his award-winning films. But he seeks out these conversations because he truly believes that we can each learn something precious from every person.
Our Sages say, “Who is the wise person? One who learns from every person” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1). Even ordinary conversations can be a curiosity conversation if we try to learn something new from people we meet.
It starts by getting curious. Here are some practical tips on how to learn from every person.
1. Learn from the unique challenges of every person. To be human is to struggle. No matter how perfect a person’s life appears on the outside, everyone is struggling with something. Maybe it’s health. Maybe it’s finances. Maybe it’s a difficult relationship. Understanding others’ battles can help us face our own.
2. Everyone has some wisdom to share. One of the best shortcuts to any accomplishment is to find someone who has already done it and learn how she did it. Most people love to talk about their ideas and how they developed them; great leaders enjoy sharing their paths. The amount we can learn from even a short conversation with someone that we admire is far greater than anything that we can figure out on our own. Ask a parent: What is the most important lesson you have learned from being a parent? Ask an entrepreneur: How did you get started? What habits have made you successful? Learn from the both the mistakes and successes of others.
3. Ask authentic questions. Too often we reduce our conversations to “how are you?” and we expect a standard answer. "Fine. Good. How about you?" Ask better questions and initiate genuine conversations. What are you working on these days? Why are you focused on that now? What concerns are weighing on you? What makes time stop for you? What surprising thing has happened to you lately? Sincere questions can show us new ways to see and approach life.
4. Learn from someone who will challenge you. The best learning partners, business partners and friends aren’t the ones who agree with all of our ideas. They are the ones who are not afraid to ask questions and challenge our assumptions. Surround yourself with people who think differently than you do, who have different personality traits than you do. We can learn far more from the questions and ideas of people who push us to examine our beliefs and goals.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg ztz”l wrote in the 48 Ways to Wisdom: “For at least one moment, be fascinated by every human being. A thrilling mystery of life is walking right by you. Look closely.”
Learn from every person. Find out what makes them tick. Be curious about other people’s goals and ideas. We can learn so much from each other. There is infinite wisdom all around us. Take a moment to ask someone a real question. The answer might change your life.