1650 – Creating a Culture of Curiosity: How Leaders Can Foster a Safe Environment for Questions with CuriosityBased’s Dr. Julie Pham

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks to the CEO & Chief Executive Officer of CuriosityBased, Julie Pham.

Dr. Julie Pham is a force to be reckoned with. Her mission is to help people practice curiosity in the workplace. She believes there is often a gap between what leaders say they value, such as curiosity, and what individual contributors experience.

Curiosity, according to Julie, is a practice. It's about asking questions and feeling safe to do so. She cited a study that found 70% of individual contributors think there are barriers to asking questions at work. This can hinder communication and learning, which are vital for any organization's growth and success.

One of the reasons people hesitate to ask questions is the fear of looking incompetent or dumb. Julie acknowledges this fear but also points out that asking questions can reveal that one wasn't listening or their team didn't adequately prepare them.

However, she notes that some people consider asking questions passive and prefer to state opinions instead. To counter this, Julie suggests that leaders can model curiosity by admitting when they don't know something and encouraging others to ask questions. 

She recommends leaders ask questions themselves, create a safe environment for questions, and give everyone a chance to contribute in meetings.

Julie shares her litmus test for language – if her refugee parents with limited English cannot understand the words being used, then it is necessary to reconsider the language. She believes that communication should not be about intellectual bullying but rather about being able to communicate with one another.


Key Points from the Episode:

  • Importance of curiosity in the workplace
  • Gap between leaders' values and individual contributors' experiences
  • Definition of curiosity as a practice and the importance of asking questions
  • Barriers to asking questions at work
  • Fear of looking incompetent or dumb as a reason for hesitating to ask questions
  • Leaders modeling curiosity and creating a safe environment for questions
  • Using plain language and clear communication for effective and inclusive conversations
  • Curiosity-based inclusion and the importance of asking questions for learning about others and oneself
  • Challenging nature of practicing curiosity and the importance of grace and listening


About Dr. Julie Pham:

Dr. Julie Pham is a best selling author, a charismatic, dynamic public speaker, and an award-winning researcher and entrepreneur. Her talks are based on her nontraditional career path as well as her original research and years of community building. Her speeches have been characterized as “surprising”, “interactive,” and “thought-provoking.” She engages audiences to reframe popularly held beliefs and guides them to discuss and practice in real time. 

Dr. Julie Pham was born in Saigon, and escaped with her family as boat people to the U.S. to Seattle. She earned her PhD in history at Cambridge University as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and she graduated magna cum laude from UC Berkeley as a Haas Scholar. 

She then got her “real life MBA” by returning to Seattle to help lead her family’s Vietnamese newspaper through the 2008-2010 recession. She left the newspaper to work in the tech industry and then pivoted to start her company, CuriosityBased, in the middle of the pandemic.


About CuriosityBased: 

CuriosityBased is a dedicated consulting practice that empowers individuals to harness the potential of their curiosity through interactive workshops and skilled facilitation. Specializing in enhancing communication, collaboration, and inclusivity, CuriosityBased fosters an environment where curiosity thrives. 

The practice develops vital interpersonal skills by guiding participants to embrace their curiosity. Through thoughtfully designed workshops and expert facilitation, CuriosityBased cultivates a culture of open-minded exploration, fostering better understanding, teamwork, and a more comprehensive sense of belonging.


Tweetable Moments:

02:40-  “I don't want to look dumb, I don't want to look incompetent, so I don't want to ask that question in front of my manager, my superior, or my coworkers, my team members. You know, they're going to think I'm a dummy.”


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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out CuriosityBased website at

Check out CuriosityBased on LinkedIn at

Check out CuriosityBased on Facebook at

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Check out Dr. Julie Pham on LinkedIn at

Check out Dr. Julie Pham on Instagram at

Check out Dr. Julie Pham on Twitter at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now, it's Julie Pham. Julie, you are the CEO of Curiosity based found on the Web at Curiosity Based, and you are also the author of the book Seven Forms of Respect. And you've got a website all set up for that book as well. And that's at forms of respect. Julie, it's great to have you.

Julie (00:01:21) - Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

Josh (00:01:23) - Josh Absolutely. So yeah, give us an overview of your impact in the world and what you do today.

Julie (00:01:28) - So I help people practice curiosity in the world, starting in the workplace, because that is where we spend most of our waking hours. We find that a lot of people there's a big gap between what people say they care about curiosity. Over 80% of leaders say, Hey, I value curiosity, and yet only 50% of individual contributors actually feel that they get to practice curiosity at work.

Josh (00:01:53) - Yeah. What does that look like? What does what does that mean? Curiosity at work.

Julie (00:01:57) - So I think of curiosity as a practice. A lot of people talk about curiosity, like a trait like you either have it or you don't have it. And so one huge indicator of practicing curiosity is the ability to ask questions, feeling safe, to ask questions. And so there's actually a study that shows 70% of individual contributors feel that there are barriers to asking questions at work.

Julie (00:02:18) - They don't feel safe asking questions at work. And so think about what that means. Like what is that? You know, even asking a question, I don't understand that acronym or why are we doing this? Or can you explain that to me? Again, there are so many barriers to asking questions, and then think about what happens when we don't feel safe asking questions.

Josh (00:02:40) - Yeah, well, I don't want to look dumb. I don't want to look incompetent, so I don't want to ask that question in front of my manager, my superior, or my coworkers, my team members. You know, they're going to think I'm a dummy. But meanwhile, Julie, I think a lot of us, you know, you know, there's we don't get everything. It's like, you know, we all come in with different experiences and sometimes it can be easy, you know, to assume that other people know what we're talking about. So what, is that accurate? That like. Yeah.

Julie (00:03:15) - And there's like, there's, there's, there's not there's also.

Julie (00:03:18) - Oh, I'm I was supposed to know this. I wasn't listening revealing that you weren't listening. Sometimes it can also reveal oh if I ask a question they're going to think my team didn't prep me. Um, and sometimes mean this is the most interesting thing as I've been working with clients is people can feel asking questions is passive. Like usually just say an opinion, not ask it as a question. Why are you phrasing it as a question? And so this is mean. I think of curiosity as a practice that you can actually encourage. And so actually likened to that practice to meditation, it looks easy and yet it's really hard. And leaders can actually model this by also admitting when they don't know or asking questions and and and modeling, hey, this is I don't know everything. What do you think mean? Do this all the time with my team. It's just they say, Julie, how do we do this? And I'm like, I don't know. What do you think? And, you know, it's kind of liberating for leaders, too, because that means we don't have to have all the answers.

Josh (00:04:19) - Yeah, yeah, yeah. And as leaders too, I think we have a pretty big responsibility for setting the tone and culture within our organization. What are some common things that leaders can do maybe in meetings or in regular ongoing communications, You know, even on Slack, you know, that sort of thing. Or we can let people know, Hey, it is okay. Like I'd much rather listen. I would much rather have someone ask a question than, you know, there be miscommunication or, you know, have them spend a bunch of time on something. And I'm like, oh, no, I don't. We need or want that. That's too bad.

Julie (00:05:01) - So you know what? People do what you do, not what you say. So it's one thing for leaders to say, I encourage curiosity. There are so many people who are just, Oh, they put curiosity in the vision statement, and yet people at work don't feel that they are that they that they can practice curiosity. So I think some some things that leaders can do is asking, hey, what does that acronym mean? Right.

Julie (00:05:22) - So even if they know, they might ask because they're asking on behalf of other people, hey, what does how did you come to think about that? And then also saying, hey, I'm going to actually make my comments at the end because I want to hear everyone else. And then actually encouraging people who have the least power in the room, maybe the intern to go first. And so I think another thing that leaders can do is to encourage people to take turns facilitating so that I as the leader sometimes oftentimes the person with the most power in the room is then expected to facilitate that conversation and to actually say, hey, we're going to take turns doing this or we're going to have the person who maybe has is the most junior to step up into a leadership opportunity. And they're going to facilitate our weekly meetings. And another one, another tip I really like to give is to before you start like a regular meeting, this is what I do in my weekly core team meetings is everyone goes around and gives a high and a low and share.

Julie (00:06:22) - This is something, a personal high and low that happened to me in this previous week so that you know what mood I'm coming into. And studies have actually shown when people share that when they share their low, their personal low, then they are much more willing to share when they're blockers in the work. So it doesn't have to all be, oh, this is this is these are all the things that are going right. Oh, no. And here's this little blip. But don't worry, it's going to be okay. Actually, if we can share, hey, I've been really sick this week or I've been caring for my for my mother. And you hear other people, people hear you saying that, then it actually creates this this feeling of vulnerability and of sharing, which also leads into work.

Josh (00:07:03) - Yeah. Um, how do you how do you how do you work with folks? Are Julie, are you obviously you're an author, but you do this professionally. How do you.

Julie (00:07:14) - Work? Yeah.

Julie (00:07:15) - So what we call them learning experiences. So we differentiate between training and learning, right? Because training is just one to many and people can be tested on that knowledge and learning is about guiding people through this process where they discover their own horse and then share that with one another. And so even me as the guide, I'm constantly learning to. So team, team leaders, organizational leaders will will bring me and my team in and then we will we have different learning modules. So we have organizational culture, goal setting, belonging and inclusion and communication skills. So those are four areas that we work on. And so then I will I'll talk to leaders, Hey, what, what are you dealing with? And sometimes it's like, oh, communication styles, we just cannot. And that's because of generational differences. There's just so many or there's we were working remotely and now we're trying hybrid again. Sometimes it's there's we don't we have different ideas of what to of what to focus on. And so then I kind of try to figure out what is it that they have the most need for.

Julie (00:08:25) - And then I prescribe basically one of those four areas. So for example, organizational culture that's around our seven forms of respect. I wrote this book, Seven Forms of Respect A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work. And then we go in and and we guide teams through determining, well, what are the forms of respect you prioritize here? How do you articulate your culture through the forms of respect? And so Josh just got to tell you right now, because there's a big misunderstanding. A lot of people hear the word seven forms of respect and they think seven habits of highly effective people. Right? They think this is like, oh, these are the seven ways to be respectful. And for the audience members who know five love languages, it's more like that. It's more like, which are the forms of respect do we prioritize? And then there are ones we don't prioritize. And and so then I help organizations actually determine what are our behaviors doing. A lot of times people talk about culture, they describe it.

Julie (00:09:25) - We're innovative, we're compassionate, we're respectful. And the thing is, what I've learned in my research is people agree on what respect feels like, feel, seeing, being seen, heard, acknowledge. What we disagree about is what does it look like? What does it look like? And so that's what I help teams get to, organizations get to, hey, what what are the behaviors that we prioritize here? Because they uphold the work, not because Big Boss likes it, but because they uphold the work. So that's how people bring me in, bring us in for retreats, for these learning experiences. And then also we also offer digital courts for those who are just, you know, don't want to do the live training. I wanted to do this. We're a bunch of introverts who like to work on their own, and then we'll come together and discuss it. And so and then there's also just we offer a lot of free resources, too, for people to just access our, our content.

Josh (00:10:24) - Yeah. Um, in one area I see that you do work in and about curiosity based inclusion too. How does that fit within maybe someone's internal work that they're doing within their workforce, within their culture?

Julie (00:10:44) - So I'm a big advocate of using plain language. So, you know, there are all these like, uh, teachers microaggressions and unconscious bias. And I don't do that. I don't do any of that work because I think that we need to actually be able to speak to each other plainly. So, for example, my litmus test is if my refugee parents, who have limited English, don't understand the words, then you know what? We have to think about the words that we're using, right? Because we need to be able to communicate with one another, not be able to not intellectually bully each other and try to going back to the people, feeling afraid to ask questions. Josh How many times in a room where I don't know if you've ever seen this in my training and someone says, Why are we doing this again? It's like a white guy.

Julie (00:11:25) - Then it's like, Oh. Bob. Bob doesn't get it right. And so curiosity based inclusion means it's okay to ask questions. Yeah, we should actually encourage asking questions and oh my gosh, yes. Right. And actually, if we don't ask those questions, then people because, you know, when people say, Oh, Bob, just Bob just got like he asked a question and everyone else snickered, I better not ask a question.

Josh (00:11:54) - Right, right, right, right.

Julie (00:11:56) - And so curiosity based inclusion means, hey, we are going to encourage asking questions. And not just that. We also have to ask questions for ourselves because, you know, mentioned curiosity as a practice. And that practice boils down to three things self-awareness, relationship building and clear communication. And I'll say that second one, relationship building that means not just outward curiosity, like learning about other people. It also means I've got to share myself. So, Josh, I'm going to share parts of me with you so you can learn about me.

Julie (00:12:26) - And then the way you react and respond, I'm going to learn about me too. And there's reciprocity there. So it's moving away. Sometimes in spaces I hear people say, It's not my job to educate you. And and I respond with like, we're looking for engagement. We're looking for conversation. And so that's what curiosity based inclusion is about. Just how do we spark conversations that are inward and outward curiosity?

Josh (00:12:51) - Can I just say to I love this example that you brought up about Bob, because I don't want Bob to sit there silently and resentful, because ultimately, why are we doing this work? It's so hopefully maybe if Bob doesn't get it, we can we can make some progress there. And in this case. Right. Especially if Bob's not enjoying this, like Bob needs this the most. And so to encourage and show appreciation to Bob for asking that question, which might be unsettling to hear it, and I would imagine, Julie, that sometimes someone's questions might be a little it could be even a difficult question to hear.

Julie (00:13:35) - Yeah. And that's and so the learning also requires discomfort, right? Because that's when we're stretching and a question I like to ask people in terms of practicing curiosity is so the first one is, do I want others to learn from me? Yeah. I want to hear people. Am I willing to learn from other people? So am I willing to learn why? Bob has that question. And that could be hard, right? Because it also requires patience. And, you know, another reason why I describe practicing curiosity or curiosity as a practice is because sometimes I don't want to practice it. Sometimes I'm the one who feels mean. I had a client who who made a request and I had all these assumptions going. I'm like, Oh my gosh. And it was actually it was, you know, was just can't believe they said this, this, this, this. And I was like feeling all my feelings. And then I asked a friend who I said, I'm feeling this about a client.

Julie (00:14:32) - What do you think? And she said, Why don't you just ask them what they mean? It's like. Course, Of course. That's advice I would normally give someone else. And yet I am stuck in my feelings of confusion and disappointment and anger that it's hard for me to practice curiosity in this in this moment. And I needed someone else to remind me of that. And so my point here, Josh, is even me. There are times where I find it difficult to practice curiosity. So we're all going to find it difficult. And it's actually not about trying to be perfect and always practicing it. It's about trying to acknowledge that it is challenging and and it's about the journey. And if it's hard for me, that means it's hard for other people. If I want other people to listen to me, I have to listen to them and I also have to listen to myself. I have to give myself grace too.

Josh (00:15:23) - Yeah, I love this. So your book is called Seven Forms of Respect A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work.

Josh (00:15:33) - Glowing reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. Who should read this book and what would you expect? The transformation that would take place in the reader when they apply what they learn?

Julie (00:15:46) - So I think at any level in the organizations, leaders, individual contributors, managers, people who are actually coming to the working in the US for the first time, people who are moving, having really big transitions, maybe from small organization to big organization, those who are undergoing change and the kind of transformation that they will have is, Oh. There is there is no prescription of how to do it. It's actually about learning that respect is relative, dynamic, subjective and contradictory because we as humans are contradictory. And the only thing I can do is to is to engage, to ask questions, to listen, to share my stories. And so that is, it's for I've brought this to all different levels in an organization and there are so many ahas of Oh. The way that I think is different from the way that other people think.

Julie (00:16:45) - And we have different reasons for why.

Josh (00:16:49) - Julie, you have some great resources on your websites, including a couple of assessments and quizzes. I'd love to direct folks who, you know, particularly our friend that's been listening to our conversation here, because I think that's just such a great next step as well as I'm sure you can have a couple of other areas. Obviously the book and maybe some other areas that you'd recommend folks connect with you. But I want to share your websites. Again, it's curiosity and then as well forms of And when folks go to either of those websites, what would you recommend they do next?

Julie (00:17:26) - So if you go to the forms of respect, you can get a free quiz, you can get the free mini eBook. There's also a free two week digital course as well, and then you can learn. Yeah. So actually lots of freebies on that. And then there's also a full digital course that you can do one month access or a lifetime access, and then you can also contact us if you want us to come in and do live sessions with you.

Julie (00:17:50) - We do wonderful virtual work. People tell us that it feels like we're in person with you. And and then on the curiosity based page, there's the resources go to that. There's so many different we do leadership book lists by different communities. So if you want to have like who are books written by Native Americans, by black Americans, by LGBTQ, those with disabilities, we have all of those lists. And so lots of resources there.

Josh (00:18:16) - Okay, this is actually really cool. I thank you so much for doing so. Like you have curated. Oh, this is this. Yeah.

Julie (00:18:24) - No, each of those lists have over 100 and it's because. Amazon has their top 100 leadership books. Of there are only 12 written by people who aren't white men. And we were like, You know what? I love my white male authors. I love Stephen Covey and Adam Grant and Patrick Lynch and keep.

Josh (00:18:44) - Doing what you're doing. White guys is cool.

Julie (00:18:46) - Please, please. And that's the thing. It's not it's an article about scarcity.

Julie (00:18:50) - It's about enlarging the pie.

Josh (00:18:51) - Yeah. Yeah. No, I appreciate it. No. So what I'm talking about here again, just in case we kind of glossed over this, is these curated lists of books which I think are really, really great. No, these are really, really helpful. So again, that website, curiosity based. And then of course, for the book you can go to forms of respect. Com. And again, both websites have a lot of great resources. So you can start to enable a little bit more empathy, listening, encouraging good questions and even bad questions. We want all the questions so that at least again, we can all be kind of working together with eyes a little bit more wide open. So, Julie Pham, this has been great. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you so much for joining us.

Julie (00:19:43) - Thank you so much, Josh.

Josh (00:19:49) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up My Influence slash guest.

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