A few weeks ago, I learned a valuable lesson after chatting with co-workers. Let's call them Jared and Joan. I meet with Jared and Joan weekly, so we are comfortable being open with each other and speaking freely. Jared was dealing with a situation I'd dealt with in the past, so I felt like I might be able to offer some helpful advice. After he talked through what was going on, I jumped in to provide insight.
One piece of advice I shared was to seek context from the other party involved before making assumptions. As the words left my mouth and lingered in the air, I realized I was doing just the opposite. Here I was offering advice without really understanding the nuances of Jared's situation. I assumed he was asking for guidance and hadn't tried the tactics that I thought might improve the situation.
Jared responded with more context and kindly shared how he tried a few similar tactics in the past. Our meeting was coming to a close, so we wrapped up and moved on.
After the meeting, Joan and I caught up. I was curious to hear her perspective on how I handled the discussion. Sure enough, she observed the same thing I did.
It didn't matter how good my intentions were. By not getting curious, my advice came off as if I knew better than Jared and implied that he was doing something wrong. Not the case! I could see that my approach was making Jared somewhat defensive and resistant.
Albeit a short interaction, it was a powerful reminder to lead with curiosity. When I think I can help someone navigate a situation, it doesn't matter how strong our relationship is. It is critical to ask questions and dig deeper before offering any insight. Gathering context will not only show a desire to learn and understand, but it will also make the conversation that much more productive by being better informed by the other person's reality.