Supervisors Lead Best with Curiosity, Not by Playing Gotcha!

ByRita Sever

Supervisors Lead Best with Curiosity, Not by Playing Gotcha!

Gotcha is the moment when one person catches another person in a trap. Often this is an unspoken “gotcha” but it is there nevertheless. This words great in a strategy games like chess, but supervisors erode trust when they play gotcha with their staff.   After a few incidents of gotcha,  staff members understand that their supervisor’s intention is to catch them, not to support them.

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There is little room for playing gotcha in a workplace.  There are some supervisors though who love those moments and there are others who inadvertently spring those moments on their staff.  Playing gotcha does not help your staff to learn or grow.  Supervisors lead best with curiosity, not by playing gotcha!

Curiosity – Not Interrogation

When supervisors don’t understand an action that a staff member took, they often try to find out what they were thinking. This can lead to an inadvertent gotcha moment. Questions can be a valuable tool, but it is important that you bring genuine curiosity to the questioning; otherwise it can come across as interrogation.


 “Why did you speak to your client in that manner?”

  “Don’t you know the procedure for updating the website?”

   “Haven’t we discussed this several times previously?”

   “Did you think you had a better way to do this process than the rest of the staff?”


   “Tell me what was going through your mind when you spoke to your client.”

   “We have a procedure for updating the website. Has that ever been reviewed with you?”  

   “Tell me what you remember about our previous discussions and I’ll fill in any gaps.”

   “What led you to doing this process in a different way?”

When supervisors are in interrogation mode, they assume that they know everything there is to know about the situation. These supervisors don’t really care what the staff member has to say; they just want to make a point.

When supervisors are curious, however, they genuinely want to hear what the staff member has to say. They recognize that they might learn something. And the supervisor’s intention is to help the staff member be successful.

Build Trust

Not only are the curious questions less aggressive in the initial exchange, they set up the staff member to have an honest exchange with their supervisor, to keep talking to them and to trust them. The interrogation tells the staff member that there is only one right answer and that the supervisor is the one who knows it. As a consequence, the staff member won’t bother to tell their supervisor what they were thinking or why they tried something new; they will just try to get the “right” answer and move on. Over time, interrogation questions erode trust and impact the work in dramatic fashion.

Good supervisors don’t practice gotcha with their staff. They lead with curiosity to build trust. Unless, of course, they’re actually playing chess.

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