Does Sensitivity Kill Curiosity?

Many leaders have suppressed their curiosity, thinking it’s more politically correct to simply avoid exploring or shining the light on differences. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has become the unspoken philosophy in many organizations. But ignoring the differences — while somehow safer — also leaves a lot on the table: authenticity, human connections, untapped talents and energy, and engagement.

Patricia Pope, CEO and co-founder of consulting firm Pope & Associates, said most people are uncomfortable asking people who are different from them about their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion for fear it will be offensive. “Years ago, I hired an employee who stated in her interview that she could not work on Friday because she was a Jehovah’s Witness and this was the day she did her ministry work.

“I noticed that she also never participated in birthday or holiday celebrations at work. Recognizing that I was pretty ignorant, I expressed my interest in learning more about her religion and beliefs. Within 10 minutes, she scheduled an offsite lunch for us. She said this was the first time in her working career anyone had ever asked her about her religion. She appreciated it a great deal, and I believe she became even more engaged as a result.”

Julie Winkle Giulioni is co-founder and principal of DesignArounds, a consulting and instructional design firm. Beverly Kaye is founder of Career Systems International, a company specializing in engagement, retention and development. They are co-authors of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.” They can be reached at