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Mastering Curiosity & Conversation in Service

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Editor's Note: This article was authored by Stefan Ravalli, for the Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM). Thanks, Stefan!

It’s hard to boil down a practice as rich as mindfulness to just a few words...however it’s fun to try. Actually, here’s one single word: “curiosity”. To what extent can you plunge your attention into everything with fascination?

Curiosity in Customer Service

With customer service, curiosity is currency. In my own journey in this field, my passion for service (especially my inspiration to make it a mindful practice) actually sprung out of my boredom with it. How does that happen? Well, any service-oriented job is filled with little interactions throughout the day. And each of those interactions has certain expectations from the customer, client, patient, or whomever you’re serving.

For example:

  • Are you going to fix my technical problem?

  • Are you going to get me the food and drink I need in a timely manner?

All very important stuff - if customers don’t have those needs, the service professional isn’t required. However, over time, my interactions with customers often began to feel lifeless and mechanical and I sort of zombie-walked through conversations.

I needed an antidote to this - since I suspected there was so much more potential for a meaningful exchange with the people I was serving. And everything shifted when I started to bring my awareness into what people really need and how I can relate to those needs in inspiring ways. It seemed that this strategy gave the service exchange the best feeling for both me and my customers:

  1. Giving the greatest respect to whatever needs people come to you requiring help with (“This is broken”, “I am hungry”, etc).

  2. Acknowledging that everyone has other, deeper needs that they aren’t expressing. And when those are touched, then the exchange goes from functional to inspirational.

Acknowledging Customers Deeper Needs

Now, that second part might get your brain spinning with questions like, “Where do I begin in hunting down and meeting all these other hidden needs?” No need to be daunted by this - the approach you can take involves a pretty simple protocol.

For example, a secondary, unexpressed need they might have in addition to troubleshooting a software issue is simply needing their worries that they aren’t tech savvy acknowledged. There’s nothing to figure out, nothing to fix. Just notice what they communicate and reflect back that you understand - we’ll be looking at specific techniques for doing this shortly.

Funny enough, for me, having a podcast allows me to really sharpen these techniques and I found myself quickly becoming the kind of person that people feel deeply satisfied connecting with. After 100 episodes, I’ve realized a couple things:

  • Everyone wants to be heard and understood.

  • Everyone comes alive when you reflect and validate what they share with you.

As straightforward as that sounds, starting to pay attention to this revealed how much I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t really listening and, equally important, I wasn’t showing people that I was listening?

Practice Active Listening in Conversations

After having guest after guest on the podcast and beginning to really want to make those sessions count, I realized that before the interview began, I needed to set a clear intention to make them feel more understood and validated. I did this by doing the following:

  1. Close my eyes and bring my attention to my breathing.

  2. Visualize the guest and me being absolutely present and supportive of them.

  3. Radiate feelings of care and appreciation for them, and really notice how that feels in the body.

  4. Clearly state to my (internally or externally) how I want the conversation to go.

And in the interview itself, mindful conversational techniques can help make these intentions a reality. Some key ones are:

  • Repeat back, in summary, something they said that stood out.

  • Acknowledge what they said and guess what they may have been feeling, i.e. “That sounds like that would have been frustrating.” Even if you’re inaccurate, that will inspire them to tell you the story of what they were really experiencing.

  • Relate to the experience while still keeping the focus on them, i.e. “I’ve always appreciated stories like that, and your particular angle on it really strikes a chord with me {in this particular way}.”

  • Share a way that they have expanded your perspective.

  • Keep your curiosity stoked by continually writing new questions, but always keep the hunger for more information in service of understanding them better rather than scratching your own itches.

To the average service professional who’s expected to process hundreds of people a day, and juggle many needs at once, a one-on-one interview format where you have the opportunity to put all of your energy and attention into one person must sound like an absolute luxury. Well for me, podcast conversations turned out to be a laboratory for exploring the communication possibilities of the higher octane levels of the service environment.

How can the intimate, personal level of connection of podcast interviews be scaled? Here’s how the above techniques can be adapted to any fast-paced service environment.

  • Repeat back, in summary, the last thing they said.

  • Acknowledge what they said and guess what they may have been feeling, i.e. “That sounds like that would have been frustrating.” Be open to being corrected.

  • Relate to the experiences your customer shares, but always be using it as fuel for understanding them better so you can find a better solution. Just trying to connect without moving towards solving the problem will seem like a decoy for not being able to really help them.

  • Say, “Cool, I didn’t know that” only if there’s an opportunity to really mean it. It’s a great bonus since people love the feeling of having taught someone. When practicing the beginner’s mind (detailed in another article), this opportunity becomes much more abundant.

No matter the pace of your customer interactions, the people you’re dealing with still have needs and, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant, are always reaching out for you to meet them. You’ll have the most success if you carry that simple intention of curiosity and take every opportunity to:

  1. Show your customers that they’re understood (remember, if you know that you’re listening, they might not).

  2. Validate what they share - let them know their struggles are real and their needs matter.

After all, even though their needs in that moment might seem unique to them, just below the surface they have the same basic requirements for safety, ease, health, and happiness that you do. And helping them with that unique surface need ultimately nourishes that deep universal need. And simply reconnecting with that simple truth can allow you to connect with your customers in new and unexpected ways.


Stefan Ravalli (LinkedIn profile here) is a meditation and mindful service teacher. His education project Serve Conscious seeks to give people and businesses the tools to transform their service roles to mindful ones and make a service a medium for growth, power and transformation.

Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM) is a membership association of researchers, educators and executives, with a shared mission to bring science-based neural training into the mainstream of business, healthcare, education and government. We're working to create a global community of shared experience, conduct research, define standards and practices, develop educational programs, and determine the measures, metrics and analytics for organizational mindfulness.


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