The Importance of WHY

This post is from The Coach’s Corner which is part of the March issue of my monthly eMagazine, The Leading Edge, for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Both Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why and Amanda Lang’s The Power of Why focus on the importance of looking closely at what you are doing, either as a business or personally. They stress that WHY is a powerful word which provides a foundation for business or personal decisions. It is the “raison d’ĂȘtre,” the reason for being.

Last month I wrote about how the shift in words can create a shift in thinking. I looked at how a shift occurs when you replace “BUT” with “AND” in statements. Use of WHY questions in different contexts will also create a kind of shift. Both a shift in your mind and a shift in the direction a conversation may go. For instance, asking another person WHY can be very different from asking yourself WHY.

When you hear, “Why did you do that?” which is a classic question from parents, teachers, bosses and others, you react defensively. The perception, whether conscious or not, is that there is a judgment, criticism, or disapproval of the action.

If the question was rephrased as, “What was important to you to do that?” This shifts the thinking from defensive to being more open. The questioner is expressing curiosity; trying to find out more about the behaviour without causing defensive flags to go up.

Oftentimes, simply reframing a question from Why…? to What…? allows for a dialogue to ensue and encourage a better understanding between two people, whether it is parent/child, employer/employee or teacher/student. Dialogue opens up the relationship to growth as opposed to shutting it down due to a defensive reaction. It becomes a question of curiosity and learning which can lead to a constructive path of behaviour. It becomes an opportunity to coach or help someone move forward in positive ways.

Conversely, when you ask yourself the question WHY, unless you are being self-critical, you are exploring the reason behind an action or decision more deeply. You are finding the real purpose and motivation. By looking closely at your business, or your career, by using the word WHY, you will engage in a dialogue about what is important and help develop the next steps, i.e. the WHAT’s and the HOW’s.

Before using a WHY question with others, I often ask myself how the other person will feel. What is the impact on the person? Will they perhaps see it as a criticism, a judgment or disapproval? It is important if you want to have fruitful conversations that move things forward that your questions open rather than shut down the dialogue.