Most of us are familiar with the three year old who can’t stop asking the question “why?” after everything we say.
Why do I have to eat dinner?
“Because you’ll get hungry otherwise.”
“Because you need food to live.”
“Because your body needs nutrients that come from food”
And before you know it you are too deep down the rabbit hole and are explaining the differences between the evolution and creation theory of existence to a three year old.
As adults we look upon this “why phase” with a sigh and hope that it transpires quickly to a less irritating endeavor like Lego building or coloring books. But alas, kids are once again wiser than their twinkling toes and button noses let on. It’s of course the kids who have got it all right.
As adults we stop asking questions. We find it takes too much effort. It requires talking to people we would rather not talk to and often we are so comfortable in our construed and altered bubbles of existence that we even prefer to not know more than we already do. We crave our own ignorance.
When I began my graduate program this past Fall, my leadership coach provided me with some invaluable advice. She called it “The 5 Whys”. In response to a statement or problem, you would ask five why questions, with each why question linked to the previous answer, until you ultimately arrive at the root of the problem. My coach counseled that every time I’m in a discussion and feel that tugging urge to challenge someone’s idea (usually without thinking through my own reasoning first) I need to ask them “The Five Whys” in order to break down their argument and gather a robust picture of their line of thought. Once I have a full picture of where the other person is coming from, then and only then can I thoughtfully and empathetically respond.
In the same way that a kid questioning his parent about having to eat his dinner can lead to the very biology of our bodies and the concept of evolution, we can gain that much more knowledge about the environments others inhabit, whether they be organizations, households or other relationships, by taking a step away from our own judgements to truly understand the full extent of others’ thinking patterns and motives.
One of the greatest lessons from my personal and professional worlds thus far has been to never make assumptions. As someone who has a tendency to think that she’s right more than she’s wrong, you can imagine how dangerous it might be for me to act on my assumptions (Spoiler – they’re usually wrong). “The Five Whys” is the way I can keep myself in check, challenge my own assumptions and better understand the full extent of a person’s thought process and argument in work, life and everything in between.