The magic of curiosity
Peggy Laurs was senior director of a major transport company for the last three years. Her most important assignment? Making an underperforming department tick like a clock. She noticed that it took more than just getting the basics right: to transform the department, she had to start transforming herself. With the help of People Change she got to understand herself better and how important it is to really get to know others.
“In my work, I was often too focused on results”, Peggy begins. “I’ve always had busy full-time assignments and I’m passionate about my work. It’s a lot of fun – but when you go at full speed towards your goal, you sometimes leave others behind”.
She also experienced this in her last job. “I succeeded in managing my own department. But I struggled with working with my colleagues. In situations where there was a conflict of interest, I had trouble getting them to come along – I tried to convince them, but it was sometimes counterproductive.
From persuasion to questions
That is what Peggy wanted to work on. She had individual conversations with Petra Groot, went through the People Change Practitioner course and worked on GROW cases, in which you make an abstract goal manageable by linking it to practice. Ultimately, this led to personal growth and a lasting transformation in her role and the relationship with her colleagues.
“For example, I wanted to enter into a good, constructive relationship with a colleague – bringing our collaboration from a 4 to a 7. That was my goal, the G in GROW. This is followed by the R of reality. You look at what you have done so far. That was convincing with facts, setting boundaries and becoming sharp – and the reality was that that clearly did not work. The O stands for options: others contribute new possibilities in a group session. Finally, the W of the Will follows: you choose which option you are going to use. This may seem simple, but it really requires a transformation of your thinking and being”.
During the group session various options were suggested: drink coffee together, substantiate your point financially or involve someone else. However, one suggestion stood out for Peggy.
“Someone suggested not only drinking coffee, but also being genuinely curious. That was an eye-opener. Until then I had stayed very business-like – focused on what I wanted to achieve with that colleague. As a result, I had too little interest in the person behind the colleague.
The Will was clear. “We were going to have coffee. Not just to convince my colleague, but to get to understand him. It was from that curiosity that we really went into depth. We talked about our lives, how certain patterns were born in the past that led to our irritations, and how these irritations had nothing to do with the other person. That mutual understanding was so beautiful. Because of that one success I became confident and I continued experimenting with deepening the relationship and being curious.”
In doing so, Peggy took a huge step towards better cooperation. By not going straight to her own goal, but first taking a step back. Of course, that doesn’t always happen by itself – you don’t get rid of ingrained patterns all at once, you have to make a conscious break with them. Here, too, slowing down proves to be of great value.
“Petra gave me some very concrete advice. I make sure that I arrive calmly at important conversations. In advance I take three minutes for myself. I do a simple breathing exercise and consciously set my intention one more time: to be sincerely curious. They are small steps in a larger transformation, but they help enormously.
Peggy notices this in himself – “the work now gives me much more energy, I really enjoy it” – but also in the reactions of colleagues: “People spontaneously tell me that I have become a lot more open. That was already the case, but as soon as results had to be achieved, I was too focused. I have really grown now. I can bring the business-like and warm side of my personality together. That makes me more balanced. It feels like a huge gift.
The emphasis People Change places on personal growth does require a willingness to look at yourself. That’s why we always work on a completely voluntary basis – only those employees who are open to inner transformation participate.
“This means that as a group you can go further. You lose traction if too many people are involved. Because the whole group really wanted to grow, I also dared to be much more open about my dilemmas”.
The fact that only part of the department participates does not mean that the rest is left behind. “The people who go through the process automatically become ambassadors within the organisation. I already noticed this in my GROW case: my sincere curiosity also led to a more open attitude in my colleague”.
The added value of People Change is crystal clear to Peggy. “A disconnected culture still prevails in so many companies. You can have the smartest, most capable people, but as long as they don’t work well together, you get nowhere. As in any change process, it’s a utopia to think that everyone will join in, but even if you only take a part of your population with you, your organisation will really fly”.
This is how Peggy succeeded in her assignment. “Employee satisfaction in the department rose from a 6.3 to a 7.4. And of course, happy people deliver better work, so that the rest of the company also benefits”.
Now that she’s done the job, Peggy is looking for her next challenge at board level. “In my long career, I’ve gained a lot of management experience and learned a lot. This journey with People Change has given me a deeper dimension as a leader and a person. I look forward to using this in another challenging environment”.