Professional curiosity is most commonly associated with safeguarding within social work, where nurturing professional curiosity is seen as an essential part of working to keep children, young people and vulnerable adults safe. However, more recently it has also been evaluated in relationship to Motivational Interviewing.
Professional curiosity is the capacity and skills needed to explore and understand what is happening with a person, rather than making assumptions about what is happening in their lives or accepting things at face value.
Within Motivational Interviewing, professional curiosity, in terms of persistent but respectful curiosity into a person's situation and feelings, gives the impression of 'striving to understand'. This is important in both demonstrating that you are actively listening and trying your best to gain an insight into the client's situation, but also builds rapport through demonstrating interest in them. It communicates the sentiment on the part of the practitioner that "I do not fully understand how things are for you, but I want to".
Professional curiosity is also an essential tool in helping clients who are 'stuck' to become 'unstuck' and move forwards, as it can enable the practioner to understand the barriers and ambivalance that are preventing them from moving forward and achieving change. In the same way that the practitioner demonstrates professional curiosity, this fosters a reciprocal curiosity or 'personal curiosity' within the client - "I do not fully understand myself and how things are for me, but I want to" and this can be a powerful driver of change.
Listening is an essential part of professional curiosity. You need to listen in order to better understand the other person's point of view. You also need to listen in order to earn the right to be heard, and where people feel that they are listened to, they will be more receptive to what you have to say.
Ask open-ended questions in order to explore the other person's perspective. People are usually naturally inclined to answer questions if they are asked them. Listen for what is not said and ask questions that will explore these areas. It is also good practice to ask clarification questions, such as "Let me make sure that I fully understand what you are saying. What I think you are telling me is ....". Never assume that you understand what the other person is thinking without asking them.
Particularly with people who may be very suggestible, such as people with learning disabilities or difficulties, autism, mental health issues or low self-esteem, it is important to make sure that they understand that you are clarifying your understanding and not doubting what they have said, or make them think that what they said was not the 'right answer'. As discussed previously here, it is best not to ask 'why?' too often, as this can be intepreted or seen as quite aggressive and forces people to justify themselves. It is better to say "What makes you think that?" or "Tell me more about what you were thinking would happen".
Building skills in reflective listening will both enhance your ability to understand and to empathise with people, and will also help you build rapport more quickly. At the end of a conversation if you put the more important reflections together, you can use this to summarise what the other person said. It is also good practice to thank people for talking to you, even if it was them that approached you,
Click on the lightbulb to the left for more information on the Motivational Interviewing Training that Soma deliver.
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