Curiosity is often a quality that job seekers highlight in their CV or cover letter. But a series of studies, conducted by the Harvard Business Review, affirms that this character trait can be a double-edged sword in business. It can be as useful as it is annoying in the eyes of managers.
To reach this conclusion, an American research team conducted three separate experiments. The first was carried out with more than 900 employees and leaders working in three companies operating in different sectors of activity (human resources, sales and service, manufacturing); the second with 400 master’s students; and the third with 528 workers employed in two companies, one specializing in high technologies and the other in management.
These three studies sought to assess how curiosity is received in the professional sphere. They all showed that employees with this personality trait are often perceived as being undisciplined by their supervisors. This negative vision, however, tends to dissipate when the curious know how to demonstrate a certain political sense in business.
But what exactly do we mean by this? Workers who are “political” at work know how to adapt to their professional environment by taking into account the expectations of everyone, without, however, giving up their own. Although often wrongly equated with manipulation, this form of social intelligence involves demonstrating diplomacy, initiative and… curiosity.
Curiosity must be constructive
Harvard Business Review researchers wanted to get a clearer idea of the importance of political acumen – and by extension curiosity – in the office by asking several study participants to judge a character’s attitude. fictional name Alex. Depending on the scenario, Alex is either naturally curious or political. In the first case, he is described as someone who likes to ask questions to resolve the problems he faces in his daily professional life. In the second, Alex is an outgoing and social person whose communication skills help him bond with his colleagues.
It turns out that the volunteers judged the curious Alex much more harshly: they found him much more insubordinate than his political alter ego. “We also found that his behavior was less likely to be seen as constructive or contributing to the effectiveness of his organization“, the academics write, adding that the curious Alex seemed less friendly than his namesake.
Should we see in the conclusions of these studies confirmation that curiosity is indeed a nasty fault, as the proverb has it? Not necessarily. Curiosity annoys when it is not channeled. Asking a thousand and one questions during a meeting will not necessarily help you shine in front of your boss, unless you do it in a constructive manner. You must therefore learn to observe and listen to be sure to understand the unspoken rules that play out within your company. This way, you ensure that your curiosity is seen as a quality that should be valued.
For their part, managers must ensure they encourage the curiosity of their teams. They should not see it as a form of interference but rather as a “soft skill” which leads them to enrich their knowledge, and which will help them solve complex problems. Provided, of course, that they can give free rein to it, without fear of reprisals.