My Nose, Other People’s Business

by cv harquail on September 1, 2011

[(As I prepare for teaching the first class of the Business Technology Consulting Practicum, I’ve been reflecting on how to encourage the students to identify the unique gifts that they have and to consider how they’ll bring these gifts to the teams and the projects they choose this year.  It’s only fair, I think, for me to pony up my own ‘gift’ — and that’s that I love to ask questions and lure people into conversations where they can rethink & reframe their work, and then have a renewed energy for it.  So, for my students & co-learners, here’s the rest of the story.   (Reposted from Jan. 4., 2010. )]

I love sticking my nose into other people’s business.

There, I’ve said it. It’s true, if a little odd. I think it sometimes embarrasses my family, this interest in other people’s business.

If you ever run in to me at a dinner party, or picking up kids at Tae Kwon Do, or walking to the train, probably the third thing I’ll ask you about (after yourself and your family) is what’s happening with your business.

If I can, I’ll ask you about the direction your business is taking, how healthy (or not) your organization feels, whether you are inspired, and how you’re trying to make a difference there.

201001040622.jpgI’m not so much interested in whether that accounts receivable issue is under control again (although I can talk about strategies for that) or whether it really makes sense in this climate to take on extra debt to invest in a new laminating technology (although I can pose tough questions about that too).

But I can- and will – talk about your strategy, your boss, your employees, your big picture, your enterprise perspective, or even your own hopefulness about your new direction, if you’ll let me.

People often find my favorite line of inquiry a little surprising.

I imagine that people are surprised because, while we often want to talk with our friends about how ‘work’ is going or what’s up with our careers, it’s not often that someone asks us about the mood in the company, about our views of leadership, and about how our organization is being authentic or not.

And, some people seem surprised when questions like these come from a woman.

Especially when I meet someone new (as I did at that New Year’s Day brunch last week, when we were talking about the threat of content farms to the magazine industry) I feel like I need to mention that I have a PhD from a business school, that I’ve taught MBA students and execs for years, and that I work with organizations and managers to establish strategies for aligning their actions and their purpose. As much as I hate to think it, sometimes new acquaintances assume that I’m your stereotypical work-from-my-home-office mom with a blog who “writes” and “consults”, and who has more to say about PTA fund-raising than about the motivational effects of various programs for re-pricing employee stock options.

And thus, sometimes people are surprised when I start to stick my nose into their business.

But, once we get past that possible implicit barrier, here’s what I usually discover:

  • Most people quickly warm to the idea of talking about their business.


  • They are actually delighted to have someone to listen to them talk it out, to bounce ideas off of, and to ponder alternative perspectives. Once they get going, they can unfold some pretty sophisticated concerns, and they do enjoy looking closely at the big picture.


  • People secretly want to talk about their business, and just don’t get asked to do it often enough.

The best part? Sometimes I can even ask a question that helps people reframe the situation in a way that feels more hopeful, in a way that helps them see how they can make a difference. That’s actually my favorite part.

I am not quite sure why we don’t talk invite ourselves to talk with each other about our businesses, more often. It’s fun, really it is.

So forgive me if at first I seem nosy, asking you about your business.

I’m not trying to drum up another consulting gig (though, I’ll be here should you need me). I’m curious. I just want to know more about your business.

I’m pretty sure you’ll have fun telling me.

Photo: Wake up and smell the flowers from nualabugeye on Flicker


Dandarius January 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Cheers to sticking your nose in other people’s business! We appreciate your moxy and applaud your probing…it is the only way others will finally learn to feel comfortable with transparency and ‘authentic’ relations. Go girl go…

JR Moreau January 6, 2010 at 2:25 am

I appreciate a good listener and attempt to be one myself. Great post and good points made!

Vivek Pawardhan September 2, 2011 at 2:04 am

To keep the conversation focused on the other person’s interest areas itself is a difficult task!

I agree with you, and have had same experience about people’s reactions.

Thanks, enjoyed reading your post.


hr solutions September 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

nice post and your points are good

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