A management expert taught me a technique that’s exponentially improved my work life. Now I’m sharing it with you.

One of the most challenging parts of our professional lives can be understanding why someone did something.

If you’re a curious person, you’re probably asking why all the time. But, if you’re in a busy role, with big targets, a plan, and lots of moving parts, sometimes we only stop and ask why when, forgive my language, shit hits the fan.

Last year, a dear friend and mentor shared a great technique he’d mastered after 20+ years in management. It helps us to understand the actions and thought process that led our colleagues to make a decision that may not quite make sense in our minds.

The technique is simple: Collect more data by asking “why”.

By doing this you’ll gain more context and there will be one of two outcomes.

  1. You’ll have more understanding, agree and move on.
  2. You’ll have more understanding, disagree, and need to work out a solution to fix the problem.

Now, I say it’s simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Especially when humans are involved, nothing’s “simple”.

So let me help you frame your “why did you do that?” approach so you don’t come off in the wrong way.

Watch your body language and tone

You need to consider your body language and tone of voice before asking why.

If you’re pissed and go in hot headed, you’re never going to get the answer you want and you’ll come across as domineering and, probably, an angry ass.

If you hate confrontation you may come across as submissive and even confuse your colleague more.

Hone confidence by standing tall, lifting your chin up and keeping eye contact.

Use direct and specific language

For my ladies reading this, sometimes we can try to make ourselves seem submissive with the language we use. And, it’s usually a technique to “not rock the boat”. We’ve likely learnt this through our childhoods and it can be a tricky habit to get out of. For example, we’re less direct when we use language like:

“I’m sorry, Joe, I just, um, there’s a mistake on the board report and if you wouldn’t mind just, um, telling me why you -when you’re ready of course- why you put this down when it’s not correct?”

To be more direct follow this format.”Hi Joe, I’m finalising the board report and in column G67 the cell shows as $98,637, can you tell me more about how you got to that figure?”

Why does this work?

  1. You’re specific about what you want to know more about
  2. The ask isn’t accusatory — it’s just information gathering.

Since implementing this technique I’ve not only resolved issues quicker (or, better yet, discovered there was no issue), I’ve also built more trust with my colleagues.

I’d love to know if you have used an approach like this and if you have any more techniques to share. Let me know below on the Twitter thread 👇.

Hello there, I’m participating in #Ship30for30 on Twitter. It’s a writing program with the aim to produce content people actually want to read. You can learn more about it here*. This is essay 5 of 30.

If you’d like to provide feedback, thoughts or feels on this post, please jump on the Twitter thread or comment below.

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Em Downham

Em Downham

Hi. I’m Em 👋. I write about b2b SaaS marketing, ideas and thoughts 💭, all the way to learnings from business & productivity books ✏️.