CAREER

How to Excel by Being Passionately Curious


By Phyllis Ehrlich

Group Vice President, Spectrum Reach

Want to stand out from the crowd, flourish, and build stronger professional and personal relationships? Then add the superpower “passionate curiosity” to your repertoire.

As an aspiring magazine editor in college, the practice of asking good questions (known as the 5Ws—who, what, where, why, and when) was drilled into me as the foundation of good journalism.

Over the years I have found that this practice — combined with a strong desire to know or learn something — can be a real career booster. Here are some key tips to help you excel in both your business and your personal life:

Be Prepared To Be Curious

With so much information at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to be curious. Do your homework before any business or personal interaction, whether it’s via email, phone, video or in person. Perhaps you went to the same school, have the same hobbies or kids the same age, know people in common or have interests that match— those are all potential conversation starters that lead to commonality and establish trust from the get-go. This sounds so basic, but not everyone puts in the extra effort. You can differentiate yourself by being passionately prepared.

Be Genuinely Interested

Questions are the heart and soul of communication and learning. Answers are the big payoff. Some engaging questions to ask to get to know someone better:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • What was your first paying job?
  • How would your best friend describe you?
  • When are you the happiest?
  • If I paid for you to get a new degree, what subject would it be in?
  • What’s something new you would like to learn?
  • Favorite book, movie, TV show, artist, celebrity and/or vacation spot?

Lean in, and listen enthusiastically to the answers.

Be a ‘Student of the World’

Have some entertaining nuggets to talk about when you’re networking and getting to know new people. Spend time gathering information about a wide variety of subjects. Everyone likes interesting and likeable people. Get to know a little bit about what’s going on in media, world affairs, politics, sports and pop culture. These nuggets can be ice breakers. Even a small connection can entice people to gravitate toward you. I once made a memorable first impression with someone who became a client. When I discovered he was a baseball fan, I asked “What duo recognized in the Baseball Hall of Fame never played baseball?” Even most baseball fans don’t know the answer (note: the answer is Abbott and Costello were recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame for their iconic “Who’s on First?” comedy routine). We connected about something that piqued his interest, and the connection continues to this day.

Do It for Yourself

Finally, have fun being passionately curious and do it for yourself. For example, I walk around with my iPhone and use voice memo to note everything I don’t understand or want to know more about in a day. This could be the definition of a word, a new app that proclaims to change the way we think, or the Buddhist monk philosophy. Then when I have a few minutes, I continuously nurture my knowledge base. Do this to feed your own curiosity. Everyone knows the expression, “Curiosity killed the cat.” But few know the second (and most important) part: “…and satisfaction brought it back.”

Phyllis Ehrlich
Phyllis Ehrlich
Group Vice President at

Phyllis Ehrlich has dedicated her life’s work to igniting businesses, transforming teams, and championing rising talent and leaders. She is currently Group Vice President of Spectrum Reach, the advertising sales division of Charter Communications, where she created and leads a specialized team dedicated to supporting top-level clients from Madison Avenue to Main Street. Phyllis is also a Certified Professional Coach and an alumna of Women in Cable & Telecommunications Betsy Magness Leadership Institute and Cable Executive Management Program at Harvard Business School.

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