Avoiding Hard Conversations? Try Curiosity

by | Oct 18, 2022 | Strategic Planning

Who enjoys hard conversations? Most nonprofit leaders we know certainly don’t.

But the reality is that hard conversations are inevitable. It could be a Board of Directors that isn’t functioning, an Executive Director mired in “founder’s syndrome,” or a team member whose work is struggling. Avoiding the topic might feel like a quick-fix, but it only makes things worse in the long run.

So, is there a way to make tough conversations easier or at least more productive?

To help answer this question, we consulted a recent interview with Microsoft’s chief marketing officer. One of his tips stuck with us:

Being curious and asking questions can help defuse negative and keep tensions from rising.

What struck us most was the notion of curiosity. It’s an approach Funding for Good encourages throughout our strategic planning work. And we’ve seen the positive effects across all types of organizations.


The Benefits of Curiosity for Your Nonprofit

When you’re running from one meeting to the next, always operating in crisis mode, it’s hard to imagine the role curiosity could play in your organization. But whether it’s the business world, nonprofit organizations, or scientific research, curiosity is worth cultivating.

Forbes recently shared Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. William G. Kaelin, Jr’s wisdom about the role of curiosity in scientific advancements:

“Many of the recent breakthroughs I’m most excited about weren’t initially foreseeable. But some scientist who was properly resourced, and given the time and trust to follow their curiosity and instincts, discovered something that turned out to be incredibly useful.”

There are also more immediate benefits to cultivating a culture of learning and curiosity in the workplace. As reported in Forbes, according to new research from Leadership IQ:

When someone is always learning new things at work, they are literally ten times more likely to be inspired to give their best effort at work.

The benefits are clear, but if you’re like us here at Funding for Good, you want to understand what this looks like in practice. The first step: consider your strategic plan.


Combine Clarity with Curiosity through Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is the perfect example of how you can combine curiosity with clarity.

When Funding for Good guides organizations through a strategic planning process, we help nonprofit staff, board, and other stakeholders to:

  1. Map their organization’s current status quo, as well as assess strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities ahead.
  2. Identify 3-5 year goals that are grounded in the organization’s vision and mission.
  3. Evaluate what parts of the organization—from programs to operations—are moving the nonprofit toward those goals, and which aren’t.
  4. Outline a path forward to achieve those goals. This includes identifying what current work to continue, what work should be sunsetted, and where all-new strategies and activities may be needed.

This approach challenges board and staff leaders to be clear in their assessments, while also remaining open and curious.

How could our programs serve more people? How can we help our staff operate with both creativity and efficiency? How can we best achieve our mission?


Learn to Embrace Hard Conversations and More

The conversations and decisions that arise through your strategic planning process won’t always be easy.

You may have staff or board members who adore certain programs that ultimately aren’t adding up. Or you may uncover unexpected challenges, such as operating gaps or organizational culture issues.

It can be hard not to take questions or critiques about our organizations personally. But curiosity allows you to create space for creative, insightful and unexpected outcomes.

Moreover, cultivating a spirit of curiosity helps organizations succeed. Research has shown that “curiosity is much more important to an enterprise’s performance than was previously thought.”

So consider embracing curiosity as you prepare for your next tough conversation, start your strategic planning process, or go about your everyday work. Your organization will be all the better for it.

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