Updated: Nov 13
-Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC
November 8, 2023
What is the key to conflict? Approaching others with willingness, compassionate curiosity, and understanding creates a pathway to healthy interpersonal relationships based in human dignity and mutual respect. The potential impact in our relationships, communities, and in the world is limitless.
Each human being has their own unique life experiences. Individual interpretations and perceptions of situations and interactions are also unique. Even in identical twin studies, individuality is abundantly clear. Though genetics and early experiences may be similar; thoughts, perspectives, and circumstances are completely different. But these differences do not need to lead to conflict.
Since the days of antiquity, scholars have explored human interactions and the timeless search for peace. "Peace is not only the absence of conflict, but also requires a positive, dynamic participatory process where dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding of peace" (United Nations, 1999). What can lead to peace? A great place to start is willingness.
Having the willingness to expand our mindsets and take steps towards understanding another's perspectives allows for less conflict, less judgement, and more openness. Being curious about the world around, and willing to break through barriers of hurt or walls of protection to view through another lens compassionately can lead to human dignity and growth. This willingness and compassionate curiosity also encourages us to continue to do all we can in our power to give the best of ourselves to others.
Compassionate curiosity is "defined as a genuine, empathetic interest in understanding the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others, even when those perspectives differ from our own" (TICS, 2023). "It goes beyond mere tolerance or passive acceptance, encouraging us to actively engage with people and ideas that challenge our preconceived notions."
In a 2017 Tedx Talk, Kwame Christian explains, "We don't use compassionate curiosity because it's easy. We use it because the relationship is worth it." Compassionate curiosity fosters a genuine interest to understand that is "tempered with empathy and respect". Slowing down and asking compassionate questions can lead to understanding. Compassionate curiosity can provide guidance with a goal to learn, rather than to teach, which may require a shift in perspective.
Christian describes compassionate curiosity as having three steps:
Acknowledging emotions by recognizing what someone is feeling.
Becoming curious with compassion, involving an open-minded approach and being willing to listen.
Engaging in joint problem-solving, asking non-confrontational genuine questions designed to foster dialogue and understanding.
Having the willingness to listen means really hearing what the person is saying by giving our full attention and providing a safe place for them without fear of judgement or ridicule (TICS, 2023). This genuine attentiveness welcomes the opportunity to truly understand.
People can be completely unaware of the impact their words, actions, or unwavering beliefs may have on another. Misunderstandings can get in the way of growth. Being willing to approach a situation with compassionate curiosity can lead to conflict resolution, a stronger relationship and understanding--ultimately steps towards healing.
"Compassionate curiosity is a powerful force for positive change in our world" (TICS, 2023). "It reminds us that beneath our differences, we share a common humanity."
Skills to use in practicing compassionate curiosity include:
Practicing self-reflection by examining your own preconceived notions and biases. Remember each person has their own unique experiences which inform their own beliefs, but it doesn't mean the other person is wrong in theirs.
Using active listening, reflect and summarize what you are hearing, paying attention to tone body language, and emotions.
Asking open-ended questions, using what and how questions invite people to share their thoughts and feelings.
Validating emotions even if you don't agree with what the person is saying. Invalidating feels dismissive and leaves the other person feeling unimportant. Empathizing with someone's feelings can create a more receptive atmosphere for understanding.
When we are willing to approach others with compassionate curiosity, we begin to build bridges toward understanding. Each individual and conversation can be impacted in such a way that it leads to less conflict and paves a pathway to peace.
Starting in your own world, working towards understanding with compassionate curiosity one person at a time can make such a difference. What is holding you back from being willing?
Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who provides therapy using evidence-based practices to counsel Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth visits. An empathetic, strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting
Christian, K. (2017). Finding confidence in conflict. Tedx. Retrieved from
Trauma Informed Consultancy Services, LTD (2023, September 17). The power of compassionate
curiosity: A journey of understanding. TICS LTD. Retrieved from
United Nations (1999, September 13). Declaration on a culture of Peace. Retrieved from