The Most Challenging Question You’ll Ever Ask

Any parent can tell you the most annoying question kids ask is, “Why?”

Why is the sky blue?

Why is the grass green?

Why do I have to take a bath?

Although it may sometimes feel like kids ask these questions merely to annoy us, kids ask them because they’re trying to understand their world.

The question, “Why?” has come up over and over again this week in a variety of places in my life.

My friend and colleague Michelle and I have committed to a weekly study session to help each other plan the direction of our businesses. When we met this week, it seemed the question, “Why?” or some variation came up repeatedly.

Why are we (do we want to be) speakers and trainers?

Why do we think there’s a need for our services?

Why would someone buy our products?

These questions are often challenging to answer, but essential to our future success. Why? Because they will help us define our motivation for moving forward and rationale to stress to our customers for selecting our services and products.

I’ve known many people who were unhappy in their careers because they never asked themselves why they were working in their field, why they were so miserable, and why they didn’t make a change. I’ve seen many businesses in my community come and go because they obviously didn’t ask themselves these questions either. In fact, at one point it became a game in our family to take bets on how many days it would be before a new and poorly-thought-out business closed its doors.

For example, at one time, a small, expensive pet boutique opened in my town. I gave it 90 days before it closed. I won the bet. It’s not that the concept of a pet boutique is a bad one. However, the person who owned the shop probably didn’t ask himself or herself why someone would buy their products in a community where people appear well off, but many live above their means AND one that also boasts at least four, national chain pet supply stores within 15 miles. 

In teaching a public speaking class the other day, we were discussing the importance of answering the question, “Why?” during our upcoming “How To” speeches. The purpose of the exercise is to give students the opportunity to teach the class how to do anything from making enchiladas to building a computer. I told the class that they can’t just tell people how things are done, but must also tell them why. Why? Because people are more willing and accepting of doing what we tell them when they understand the rationale behind our instruction or requests. I also advocated the age-old advice of asking, “Why?” five time to get to the real reason.

For example, a student gives a speech to introduce himself to the class. The student states that video games are a big part of his life.

Why are they so important? Because I like to play video games.

Why do you like to play video games? Because I play with my best friend.

Why do you play with him? Because he and I have been friends since we were five years old.

Why have you been friends so long? Because I can always count on him.

Why do you count on him? Because he’s stood by me through many bad times, including when my dad died.

Ah. . . now we get to the real reason playing video games are such a big part of his life. They give him the opportunity to spend time with someone he trusts and relies upon and someone who helped him through one of the most difficult times of his life.

Amazing what you can learn by just asking, “Why?”

Finally, asking ourselves, “Why?” when our work or personal relationships are unsuccessful can be important in identifying our role in the situation. When relationships don’t work out, the easiest thing to do is to blame the other person, or some external factor over which we have no control. However, when situations repeat and patterns emerge, we need to look to ourselves for answers, even if it involves  some uncomfortable soul searching and the answers we find might point uncomfortably toward ourselves.

Why am I able to attract talented people to my organization, but lose them shortly thereafter? 

Why does every interaction with my business partner turn into an argument?

Why can’t I trust my employees?

Why can’t I maintain anything but the most superficial of friendships?

Although asking, “Why?” can be annoying, challenging,  and can sometimes lead us to answers we don’t want to hear (or admit to ourselves), being smart and brave enough to ask the question will provide critical insights into ourselves and others.

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Comments (2)

  1. Bev Brooks
    14:57 pm

    In my profession, 911 operator, the question “why” pops into my head several times a day. Silently wondering why did you drive drunk, why did you hit your wife, why were you speeding on an icy road. And after all of my mental exhaustion I get that one phone call, where I can do good or even save a life, and I remember why I do it. That’s the answer to my question of why I stay in such a difficult job.

    1. Well said Bev!

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