If you could choose just one behaviour which you could somehow magically fix overnight in your organisation, and you had to choose the one which would make the most business impact, which one would you choose?
I know which one I’d go for. Easy. Not asking enough questions, particularly at the start of initiatives. Because we don’t do this, we store up all sorts of problems down the line. These include:
- Projects going wrong
- Clients hanging us out to dry for solutions which don’t meet their requirements
- Money left on the table in negotiations
- Conflicts escalating out of hand
- Lose lose outcomes
And the rest. The list is endless.
It’s such a simple thing to do: ask questions and make sure you understand what you need to before you start on stuff. We all know we should do it, and we know how to do it, it’s just that we don’t do it. Durrrrr.
Why is this? It’s a question I often ask myself, and the learners I am working with. I think it boils down very often to fear: fear of being seen to be difficult, fear of being seen to not know the answer, fear of slowing things down, fear of getting an answer we can’t handle, fear of embarassing someone. Much better to pretend we have all the info we need, get started nice and quickly, and then work out how to deal with the problem which we have basically deferred when it comes up later (maybe by then other people will have become implicated and we can spread the blame).
I was discussing this with my friend and business associate Spencer Holmes the other day, and decided to let the Flip video capture it. We started by discusing the Chinese proverb which says that if you ask someone “Why” seven times in a row they go mad. Prior to turning on the video I had just done this to Spencer on a project he is involved with.
My call to action this week is to think more like a 5 year old. Ask permission to ask questions, tell people why these questions are important (to save us all pain later on), and then go ahead, empty your head of assumption and ask “Why” as politely and unthreateningly as you can. “It would really help if I could understand” is actually “Why?” dressed up in cotton wool. Then you can look forward to less conflict later in the initiative, and we can all get ourselves an easier life. Enjoy!