In a recent article, I talked about why curiosity is a real superpower on the manufacturing floor. Even when a leader has great intentions or productive feedback, they may struggle to communicate with their team if they don’t have a curious mindset.

Stay Curious or Shut Down Conversations?: A Case Study

For example, look at the story of “Bobby,” one of my previous coaching clients. Bobby worked as a maintenance manager at a manufacturing plant. His role often involved leading large projects on equipment upgrades and improvements. As a result, he and his team spent a lot of time working with data on the reliability, uptime, and speed of their machines and processes.

When it came to one piece of inefficient equipment, Bobby and a team member had completely different opinions. To get to the bottom of the issue, the team member was assigned to look into the data about the equipment. But as time went on, they never supplied the data. They’d say they’d have the data for their next team meeting. Then, the next meeting would come and there would still be no data!

By the third meeting, Bobby was feeling fed-up. He had a presentation with the CEO coming up and wanted to look good as a leader, but was still struggling to feel aligned with this certain team member. Eventually, he began to consider just shutting down the situation. If the team member wasn’t going to supply the data, maybe Bobby should just end the conversation, tell the team what to do, and be done with it.

Another Solution

Instead of shutting down the conversation, Bobby and I worked together to help him shift his mindset and embrace curiosity. To gain a better understanding of the situation, he came up with questions like:

  • What is the real problem?
  • What is the team member’s perspective on the data? Why aren’t bringing it to the meetings?
  • If I end the conversation, how will that make the team member feel?
  • What if ending the conversation leads to a missed opportunity to find compelling data?
  • What if I’m wrong in my belief about the team member and the data?

With questions like these, Bobby came to realize that he didn’t understand why his team member wasn’t bringing the data.

The Three-Step Process for Curious Conversation

Step 1) Show That You Care
In the beginning of your conversation, make it clear you’re coming from a place of care and that you have a desire to understand the other person’s perspective.

Step 2) Consider Your Language and Questions
To find the best outcomes, be intentional about your language and questions. Ask open-ended questions and make it clear that you’re curious and ready to listen. Statements like “I’m curious about . . .” or “help me understand . . .” can be powerful tools for guiding the conversation.

Step 3) Play Your Part
As a leader, you have a big role to play! At the end of the conversation, ask questions to find out what you can do to help and support.

The next time you run into a miscommunication or conflict on the manufacturing floor, consider steps like these and approach the issue with a sense of curiosity. You might be surprised by the results you find!

At Manufacturing Greatness, Trevor Blondeel works with manufacturers to connect the top to the shop floor. If you’re ready to improve your own organization, contact Trevor to learn how Manufacturing Greatness can help you build stronger leaders and develop a dynamic, high-performing workplace.