Why It’s Critical to Search for the Why, What and How

I am always amazed when I train managers and area managers how to coach, that their biggest challenge when communicating, giving instructions or providing feedback, is to stop telling the team member what to do. We seem to think as a manager, we have to know all the answers and the easiest way to get a message across is to provide the solution to the team member.

When this happens, this results in a high number of miss-communications, with team members simply nodding and smiling when they are told what to do. Telling is less effective when it comes to getting your message understood. In fact, research tells us that after one month, people will only remember 20% of what they are told.

So, what’s a better way?
Getting the team member involved in a conversation where they have to come up with the answer is much more powerful. It’s as simple as asking the team member this question – “Why is that important?” or “What’s another way of doing X?” or “How could you improve that for next time?” All of these questions require the team member to think before they answer the question. Also, there is much more likelihood that the team member will take ownership if it’s their idea.

Another powerful bonus of getting a team member to come up with the answer is, research says that people remember (after one month), 70% of what they say, so this is a powerful technique for much better memory retention too. Not only do you know they understand, if they tell you the answer, they are more likely to remember as well.

Unfortunately, the why question is often negatively associated with the younger generations, who use this question repeatedly, often to the frustration of the older generation. However, I love that they question why things are done a certain way – isn’t it better to constantly look for better ways of doing things? They may just be right or have a better way to do something. Also, if they (and all the other generations as well) don’t understand the reason why they need to do something, there is much less likelihood that they will buy in and do it well.

My advice is take the time to ask the Why, or What or How questions and reap the benefits of these powerful questions.