We are born, we learn to talk and we start asking ‘Why’. It is how we are wired. Spend much time around a three year old and count the number of times you are asked why. As adults we find it annoying, but what we are missing is that the human brain wants to understand. It is how we make choices and how we calibrate our world. Understanding the why, whether you are five or fifty-five, gives us comfort and motivation. Yet for some reason when we work with adults we perpetually skip over the why and frankly we pay the price.
Too often we perceive people as difficult, change phobic or disagreeable who really don’t get the why in what we are asking. Is that their fault for not stopping and asking? Is that our fault for not explaining the why first? Yes and Yes. I get it, I am guilty of it myself, the world is fast paced and we barely have time to communicate what we have to, so we jump to the how, but I am realizing more and more that this is the longer slower approach to everything. I see it all around me.
I am finishing up another class for my Master’s this week, Business Analytics. I have frankly found the class completely frustrating, despite it being an incredibly important topic and having a teacher who goes above and beyond. As I was writing my class evaluation, I realized why it has been so hard. The class is all about the ‘how’. We have done 16 weeks of exercises learning statistical tools, Excel functions and analytics software but I am coming out of the class feeling like I didn’t get what I should have out of the class. What I was looking for was a class that taught me why first and then how. I wanted to understand the needs of a business leader, what their goals were and what the challenges were and then find tools to solve them. Instead I learned a lot of solutions and was given examples to help me hunt for problems to solve with them. I doubt I will use half of the valuable material I learned because when I am in those situations my brain has not been shown use x when y occurs. I just know how to do x.
I sat in a meeting last week and we were debating a change in a travel billing policy. We started with the solution we each thought was appropriate. The conversation made me want to scream (actually I think I sort of did at one point). I couldn’t place the problem at the time, I get it now. We never started with why. We never started with a shared goal of what we were trying to fix and as a result part of the room was trying to solve one problem and the other a different problem, and frankly I am not sure looking back either got solved. Had we started with why, in this case what is the problem we are working on solving, I believe we would have agreed on the direction to go and reduced frustration greatly.
I had a conversation with a friend this week on Obama’s Affordable Care Act and why so many see it as a failure. It hit me last night, we aren’t all working towards the same goal. I think for the President the primary goal was get everyone in the country covered, regardless of the cost. I think for the American public the goal was to reduce healthcare and insurance costs. We are having a national discussion without even really knowing what we are talking about and as a result are talking over each other and failing on both
Even at Jasmine’s barn I see it all the time. A policy (the how) is stated or shared or implied and there is limited compliance and then frustration. The change is perceived as poor customer service or just being difficult but the reality is we have an amazing set of owners and barn crew, the best out there in my opinion, and we have caring boarders who want to help out. But without that extra step of explaining why the actions have no grounding and just seem limiting. When why is given the majority jump on board.
Why does many things, it:
- Ensures we are all working towards the same goal. Too often we assume others see a problem like we do or have the same mission we do and that isn’t the case
- It gives context for an upcoming solution, particularly to those who may be new to the situation or to whom part of the situation is invisible
- It gives merit to needing to change and the extra work that might be required
- It provides the comfort of knowledge that many need to accept change
- It raises the priority of a behavior or change. When a person can ground themselves in the reason they are doing something it becomes much more important to them
- Explaining the why, of a change or rule, makes the decision seem much more thought out and thought through. It erases the notion that this is just a wild, off the cuff solution or an emotional reaction.
It is time to talk about why! Every conversation should start and end with the why. The how is the measly details in the middle!