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Leadership Quick Tips: How to Get to the Best Way to Ask Why
Asking the best version of the 'Why' question
Answering the question 'Why' is at least as important as 'What' or "How'
FOR YOU, THE LEADER :
Over the past ten years, I have spent thousands of hours in my professional role getting to the ‘Why’ Question.
- Why does that person do that
- Why is this worth the money
- Why should I give you a promotion
- Why should I get a promotion
- Why does this matter to you
I've learnt that asking the question 'Why' can create challenging tension.
Why is this?
Some people believe if you ask 'Why', you are not interested in knowing more but simply challenging their stupidity.
You say, 'Why?' but they hear, 'Why would you do something that stupid?'
Just to be clear - that's not you; it's them.
It's their background and baggage that causes that reaction, not your 'Why' question
Each person is responsible for their actions and their reactions
To get around this challenge, I've learnt to ask the 'Why' question in three different ways, or what I call ‘Language Packs.’
You could find some LinkedIn posts that give you 10 or 20 ways, but people usually write those posts without the practical experience of using those questions in high-profile leadership arenas.
Trust me on this - these three are the best ones to use
Language Pack 1: 'Bounce to curious.'
Code: 'I really like <summary of what they are talking about>, and I'm curious - what led you to this idea?. Tell me more.’
Why does it work? :
1. You are playing back what they said - it shows you were listening and not racing to give your point of view in response
2. You have explained that 'you are curious'. You are not challenging them; you've made it about your curiosity
3. You have invited them to carry on speaking but turned it to the 'Why' question, so you've moved the conversation on.
Language Pack 2: 'Help me understand.'
Code: 'I'm not really getting it - help me understand, where did this <idea/plan/thought> come from? What's the background?
Why does it work? :
1. You are putting the problem on you, not them ...... 'I'm not really getting it
2. You are asking for help - people tend to give help when you ask for it :)
3. You ask two questions together at the end. Because the brain likes to see patterns of three, the other person will naturally want to fill in the third by answering, so the person is likely to fill in the blank
4. Idea/plan/thought - you say one of these three, to show that you have listened and categorised what you've been listening to
Language Pack 3 : You might be right/exciting
Code : 'You might be right. Let's explore this a bit more. What excites you about this?'
1. You are avoiding a usually hypothetical argument of who is right between two people - 'you might be right.’
2. You invite a 'co-explore' of the item for the two of you. You are signalling a joining together - you are getting in the same boat ; you are offering to commit to a journey together.
3. You are using the great word 'exciting' - it's a very positive word
4. You could replace 'this' with a summary of the topic if you want. This shows that you are listening
FOR YOUR TEAM
You could pass these tips to a few of your best team players and ask them to use them. Then get those together and ask if it worked. Get some feedback
TAKE IT FURTHER
You could explore 'great coaching questions' and 'how to avoid saying why' in Google searches and develop your own go-to phrases
Avoid asking a challenging 'Why' question, instead, use one of the three language packs above to do it better
If you avoid challenging with a blunt 'Why', you'll unlock a clearer understanding of the content of ‘Why’ and get more content to understand and react to and deal with later
Let me know which one of these you found most helpful in the comments.
Happy to do another post going into more depth on whichever one you find most interesting.
Finally, these are NOT generated by ChatGPT🙂
I know you are time-poor - that's why I write these leadership Quick Tips. Each one talks about an instantly recognisable issue and an instantly usable tip in that area. Once you read it, you will have the tool in your bag to use. Each article takes no more than three minutes to read or listen to. (Get the substack app for listening).
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