The Power of Asking How & Why
When you ask a question that begins with Why, expect the reasoning, rationale, logic, intent or purpose behind something.
When you ask one that begins with How, expect the methods, options, plans, procedures, or techniques.
We standardize the How, without coming to agreement on the Why. Or if we share the Why, we argue needlessly about the How.
My SWAT teammates gave me the nickname Tactical Philosopher when jesting me on my relentless challenges of Why we did what we did. And How we met those objectives. As someone who self-describes as a systems thinker, I embraced the moniker. I’ve always been a seeker of the relationships, priorities, harmony, correlations, and causes-and-effects between variables.
Leaders share a vision of the Why. Managers employ effective coordinated How in search of reaching that vision. Both are vital to progress, growth, and success.
The Why will always be more critical. Adaptive, resilient, persevering people may need to make adjustments to and shifts in the How. But they are grounded in the Why; it’s what drives them forward.
The next time you find yourself in disagreement, use questions that begin with Why and How to find your common ground. You might find out that the debate needs to be had at a much more foundational level.
And don’t stop there; when you find yourself in agreement, ask the same questions to make sure you’re doing what’s right for you and your organization. There’s really no sense in sharing the How if your team is doing something for the wrong reasons.
These How and Why inquiries are not meant to be comfortable. They poke and prod at conventional “truths” and traditions. If you’re doing something because you’ve always done it that way, make sure it’s still what’s best for you. Or if you’re moving through unchartered territory, be open a list of options and alternatives on how to reach your destination.
How can you benefit from asking these questions?
Or better yet…Why?
Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police supervisor with a reputation for questioning authority. While proudly skilled at "doing awkward," he continually asks the challenging and often uncomfortable questions that begin with How or Why. Follow him on Twitter at @LouHayesJr.