To get more of what you want, sniff out curiosity. Keep your ears open for these telltale signs you’ve found an inquisitive professional.

When we ask professionals for their advice we usually want a straight answer. Ask your financial advisor if you should you invest in Bitcoin, or ask your doctor if you should have surgery, and most of us crave a yes/no answer. We’re busy, and we’re paying them to be experts.

But the best experts won’t give you answers… at least not at first. Instead, they should ask you questions. Even if your financial advisor thinks Bitcoin is the best thing since sliced bread, she should pause and ask you what your goals are for your money. How much do you want to earn, and by when? How comfortable are you with risk?

Even if your doctor knows a surgery will save your life, they need to ask you how you feel about the risks you’ll face if you have the surgery and explore what “quality of life” means to you, before they can answer with their best advice.

It’s easy to find quick answers, but quick answers do not always provide the best solutions. If we take a moment to be curious and to ask why, we often come up with better, simpler, and more fulfilling answers. And even if we end up sticking with our original answer, we feel much more confident about what we have decided to do.

Personally, I know that asking questions makes me a much better interior designer. When people ask me if they should paint their house a certain color, I respond with: “Well, what kind of feeling do you want the house give you when you come home each day? What colors are your neighbor’s homes painted? Do you want to blend in, or stand out? What color do you plan to paint your trim and front door? What kinds of plants and rockery and decking will surround your house?” It’s important that I be curious and ask questions before I answer because I really can’t say if blue is a better choice than gray if I don’t know what the homeowner (who will be the one *living* with this new house) is trying to achieve. Even when a client asks me a seemingly straightforward question like “should I put a lamp in that corner?” I follow up with things like: “How do you use the room? Do you read/knit/color in this space, or is the room mostly used for watching tv? Do you do yoga in there? Or do you do puzzles?”

These questions always seem obvious once asked, but surprisingly few people pause long enough to ask them. Instead, the financial advisor tells you what they would do with that money if they had it. The designer tells you how to paint the room as if they were going to live there. And while those might be great choices for them, it might totally miss the mark for what you are trying to achieve. Whether we are helping a client or a friend, asking questions helps make sure we don’t leap to a solution that would be right for me or my life and instead helps us put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and make sure that we are coming up with the right solution for their family, their home, and their life.

So next time you’re hiring an expert, ask them a few questions and pay attention to how quickly they leap to an answer. Whether you are asking a gal at a makeup counter to help you find a new lipstick, or asking your doctor if you should have surgery, whether or not they show curiosity and ask you questions will tell you so much about whether you are going to be well taken care of, and whether or not you’ll walk away with a solution that fits you.

And if you find yourself in a positive of giving advice, whether to a client or patient, to a friend, or even to yourself, always remember to be curious. It works for the simple things, like trying to decide what to wear for a party (ask “why am I going to this party?” “What impression do I want to make?” “How do I want to feel?”) to the big things like trying to decide if you should find a new job (ask “What am I trying to achieve?” “How does that job need to be different from the one I have?” “What is it about my current job that makes me feel unfulfilled?”). No matter what you’re considering, being curious will help you dig in and find a better solution.

May you always be curious. May you always ask why.


Rebecca West

Since 2007 Rebecca West and her team at Seriously Happy Homes have helped folks live large in small spaces, and carve out little corners of happiness in a big and scary world. In 2016 Rebecca authored the book ‘Happy Starts at Home,’ (a practical blend of self-help and home-design theory), and she has been a featured speaker at Town Hall and Ignite Seattle, on TV on New Day Northwest, and showcased in Success Magazine.