More Curious than Certain, Though Still Human
by Chris Ouellette
Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard
Happy October to you all! I hope that your September was both reinvigorating and fruitful as the students returned to being within your walls! When I was selected to become a Leadership + Design fellow for the 2021-2022 school year I was asked to live the phrase “Be More Curious than Certain”. This phrase was one that I wrestled with at first because I thought, of course there were moments that could have certainty. How could we ignore facts? The phrase really clicked in for me when I realized that being more curious than certain was important when there was a human element involved. I was so excited to go back and try out my new phrase. As you can probably imagine, the first time I led with “I am curious about the choice to…”, I was met with some frustration at my choice of words. My colleagues did not believe that I was actually curious about the choice, and felt as if I was just sugar-coating the fact that I thought they were wrong.
The truth is, my colleagues were right. I learned that once your colleagues feel that you are telling them that they are wrong, it doesn’t matter if you were actually curious. This fact was challenging to wrestle with. Last year, we had Monica Guzmán come to campus to discuss her book I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. Similar to L+D, Monica encourages her readers to lead with curiosity. Many of my colleagues asked questions about how to respond when “it feels like the other person already has an opinion”. Her answer was simple: “Of course the other person has an opinion already, they are human, and that doesn’t mean that they aren’t curious”. While I felt validated by this response, it meant that I also had some significant work to do with my colleagues.
My task was clear: how could I help my colleagues see that I cared about what they had to say, even if my previous actions would indicate that I disagreed? Clear, definitely not simple! My ultimate decision was to dive more deeply into the relationships I was developing with my colleagues. It felt right to show how much I cared, and how much I valued their input (which wasn’t any different than when I first said “I am curious”). I also took a pause from leading with “I am curious about the choice to”. I hadn’t lost my curiosity, in fact, it had grown. I just wanted to make sure that my colleagues felt my care first and foremost.
This year I have been committed to a return to leading with “I am curious about”. It has landed with mixed results, though they have been far more positive. Most recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about a choice around a student’s strong Covid concerns. Before I could share that I was curious, my colleague felt my disagreement. Though they felt judged initially, after a quick reminder about humans and opinions, we dove into my curiosity around the choice. This allowed us to create a stronger solution together! I am committed to seeing this phrase through. I know that the journey will be bumpy at times, and it helps me to continue remembering the words of the GZA, “live a life full of humility, gratitude, intellectual curiosity, and never stop learning”.