My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Curiosity May Kill the Cat, But it can Bring Alive Personal Relationships

Every once and a while, I veer off my tax and money mandate and provide you, my readers, with pearls of wisdom related to life. My pearl for today: be curious!

After reading my post, some of you may consider today’s pearl to be a salt-water cultured pearl of the highest quality, while others may consider my advice more like a pearl from costume jewelry. I hope more of you go with the former than latter, as it will enhance your personal and business relationships.

Suggesting you be curious may seem like an odd recommendation. Yet, by being curious you often find out amazing information about people and learn incredible stories. In some cases you may find your 6 degrees of separation with the person you are speaking to is closer than you imagined. You also create an opportunity for dialogue which strengthens your relationship.

I realized the importance of curiosity in a roundabout manner. Several years ago, a business acquaintance of mine recommended I read the book, Your Client’s Story by Scott West and Mitch Anthony to enhance my client relationships. While the book was written for financial advisors, I quickly realized the basic premise of the book held true for both business and personal relationships. The premise being: the more curiosity you have about people and the greater interest you show in them, the more you learn and enhance your relationships.

The authors of this book make an interesting point. They state for us to be truly curious, we must avoid letting our egos and insecurities "pull every conversation into orbit around ourselves". Think about that comment for a minute. How often do we center conversations on ourselves? It’s human nature as we are, for the most part, self-interested.

By being curious, you also let go of prejudices you may have inadvertently developed in who and why you talk to people. A perfect example of this is how we sometimes dismiss talking to older people, because they are, well old, and we have nothing in common with them.

The authors share two interesting stories involving being curious about “older people”. The first story relates to an investment advisor who was invited to a cocktail party at an old age home. As you can imagine, he was less than keen to attend. The advisor started talking to some of the senior citizens and as it happens, one had been a member of Senator Joe McCarthy’s staff during the period of communist paranoia (“McCarthyism”) in the U.S. As the advisor moved about the room, he met another senior who ended up being the school superintendent when the color line was broken in Arkansas. Can you imagine how interesting these two people’s stories would be to hear?

The second story was about Mitch's brother Mark, who while in college, was a John F. Kennedy (“JFK”) fanatic. Mark found a book in the college library written by Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s secretary. The book had not been checked out for 15 years. After reading the book, Mark wrote to Mrs. Lincoln telling her how much he had enjoyed the book. She was surprised to know that anyone was still reading her book and invited Mark for a visit with her and her husband (who happened to be an aide to Bobby Kennedy). The dinner proved to be one of the most intriguing of Mark’s life.

After reading West and Anthony's book, I wanted to be more curious. So I asked a client, who I thought to be a capitalist through and through, how he got started in his business. He told me he had gone Berkley University in California in the late 60’s and early 70’s, where he was a bit of radical. As I am fascinated by that period of time, I asked many questions just about what life was like back then as he re-lived the era for me. We finally got back to speaking about how he ended up in his current business 20 minutes later. Not only did I learn about my client, but I think he appreciated that I took an interest in his past history.

I have done this numerous times since, and have been amazed at the stories, the confluence of events and even sometimes, the blind luck that have led successful people to where they are today. In almost all cases it has been compelling

How does Curiosity apply in the Business World?

From a business perspective, curiosity is vitally important. When you are curious, you are getting to know and understand your client through questioning them about common interests and backgrounds (or non-common backgrounds). By questioning you create engagement by taking the time to truly listen to your client’s actual issues, needs and concerns. This knowledge can then empower you to meet the needs of your client.

The authors have multiple questions in the book to ask your client to help you get to know and understand them. Here are 3 of the key questions:

  • what is your first memory of money?
  • what was your first job?
  • how did you start in your business?
So there you have it, my pearl of wisdom for today: be curious. If you are curious, you will often find your six degrees of separation with people whether they are personal or business relationships, draw out some interesting stories about their past, have a far greater appreciation for how they act, and strengthen your relationships.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.


  1. Enjoyed your post! Have always believed that if you're genuine, curious and take time to learn about people, they will WANT to do business with you. The added bonus is that the better you know your clients, the more you can help them. A win win!!

    1. Thx Patricia

      Can't agree more, even when your naturally unsociable like me :)

  2. Great post, and as you mentioned, useful to keep in mind for all aspects of life. Reminds me of Dale Carnegie's classic.