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Why don't we ask why?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Earlier this week (see the article here) I explored just how simple, and how powerful it is to ask the question “why”. It’s obvious that, properly used, it gives us a rich and detailed understanding of someone or something else, which will, in turn, make us far better at responding.

The example I used was a classic “sales training” example, but the same questioning process is as effective in customer service, product design, process mapping, consulting - the list is endless. In any situation in which knowing more would help you respond better, genuine, open questioning will help.

But something stops us. Regularly.

So often, we leap in with solutions, we talk over people, we offer our wisdom, we relate what they are saying directly to our experience...essentially, we make it all about us and much less about them. Why?

Here are five suggestions - please add yours in the comment box at the bottom of the page.


Someone’s talking to me. They’ve come to me because I’m an expert. I need to prove that. I need to offer them an answer soon. On no, it’s gone quiet! They’re expecting me to say something...anything...quickly! Think. Give them an answer...

I was guilty of this recently - sorry Hannah! Hannah had asked for advice on what sort of digital SLR camera she should buy. I offered three suggestions, proving just how on top of the market and knowledgable I was. And also what an idiot I was - I didn’t ask a single thing about what she wanted one for, how she would use it, or anything!


He’s not happy...this is going to get boss will hear the customer shouting at me, so I need to calm him down quickly...I must show I’m on his side...I must agree with everything he says...

Either diving in to agree with someone, or quickly beginning to talk about your similar experience is a classic way of getting on the same side as someone. “Oh, I know, it’s awful, isn’t it” or “the same happened to me at...”. You just want to cuddle up to the other person in order to feel more secure.


Here they go, they want to be able to get blah data...updated every blah...easy to press blah and print off blah...access from wherever blah is and 24 blahs a day, 7 blahs a week...blah...blah...blah...

Let’s be honest. Customers, external, internal, “clients” or “shoppers”, or indeed anyone else can be boring. Let’s just say yes, give them “the thing”, and they’ll go away. But ask yourself a question. Are you in the right job, really? And can’t you indulge those kind people who, however boring you may think they are, ultimately cause money to get into your bank account every month? Think about it.


Hmmm?...Yeeessss....I know............really!....[I must get that report finished, and he’s spilt coffee down his shirt; at least I hope that’s what the stain is]....sorry, what was that.........yeeesssss.......

Minds wander. Mine does anyway, and trying to quieten it down can be a real struggle. You need to though, because otherwise you’ll end up cutting the conversation short so you can flit on to the next thing. Finding ways, through breathing, through eye contact, through whatever it takes to actually engage in the conversation - the more interesting it becomes, the less distracted we’ll be.


Here she comes...yes, seen her type she glances at herself in the mirror....yep, there you go...Beetle Convertible, love? Got one in just your colour...

Come on now! You may think you’re the car showroom’s answer to Derren Brown, but (a) you’re not, and (b) are you really so desperate to show it? Just as some customers can be seen as boring, others can be seen as predictable. But, with the chance that you might be wrong, is it worth taking the risk just to show off (in a way that is unlikely to impress anyone other than yourself anyway)?

I can’t wait to go shopping for a big pick-up truck. I’m accompanying my wife, not the other way around, and I bet some wildly incorrect assumptions will be made!


Two follow-up steps for you:

...and then share your thoughts below.

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