Friday, September 30, 2016

If You Need to Know Something, Ask Why.

Why? This is one of the most effective questions anyone can ask. I know that many of you who are good at problem solving or communicating often ask questions containing this simple word. Do these questions look familiar?

• Why are things done this way?
• Why do we have the same problems over and over again?
• Why are these horrible (or nice) things happening?
• Why won’t he or she change?

Even when your question is initially answered, many of you will follow up with another Why-question and possibly a few more; this technique is outstanding because Why-questions allow you to dig deeply into your issue of the moment. The use of Why-questions is especially effective for communication, management, leadership of others, self-management, and personal relationships.

This article is about a key but simple point: If you ask Why-questions the right number of times, you’ll get a reliable and realistic overall answer; the more you ask, the better the answer.

Why-questions are also useful in clarifying troubling issues related to grammar and communication. When readers email me a question, they usually begin by using the Why-word. Indeed, so many of you have asked me Why-questions that I believe I need to demonstrate how I use the Why-question method to arrive at my own answers.

If I communicate a recent example to you, you’ll see how I use Why-questions and how you can easily apply them to most situations you encounter at home or on the job. In turn, you’ll be more likely to succeed at what you’re doing; that’s a promise.

The idea is to get to the root of a problem, challenge, or situation by asking a few Why-questions. Gradually, you’ll get more detailed information and answers, and you’ll arrive at a point where your curiosity and concerns are satisfied. I encourage you to try this method today after reading the rest of this post.

The following is a situation that I recently encountered; it's about editing and writing, which are areas that most of us frequently encounter.

A reader asked me a question about the use of a certain grammatical term in business communication; he also wondered as to why one way was preferred over another.

After the question was asked of me, my first internal response was “that’s just the way it is.” Then I thought: But why?

Because we have style guides that tell us what is correct when using language.

But why is that?

At some point many decades ago, business communicators, journalists, publishers, and language experts saw a need to have some structure and method by which all of this language and grammar stuff could be organized and codified so that everyone would understand; as a result, style guides were invented. The experts’ top goals included maintaining consistency in the use of language while allowing for variations in different environments, such as in publishing, journalism, universities, and everyday life. Examples of style guides (and there are many) include The Chicago Manual of Style; the AP Stylebook, and countless in-house corporate communication and language guides.

But why do these people have the authority and right to do this?

That is their job, they are experts in language and linguistics, and they follow words and language like some of us follow sports and television programs. The experts rely on past and current usage of language and communication to make conclusions, which in turn become the accepted authority and practice.

But why do we have to accept these forced-upon-us conclusions?

You don’t have to rely completely on these eminent authorities; use your judgment where needed. If you don’t routinely use their guidance, though, you'll be out of the norm, you’re going to make errors in your writings or speeches, and it’s not going to be pretty. That is, you’ll be a language renegade.

See how I used Why-questions to get to the core answers of a simple question? Notice the number of details that I discovered just by continuing to ask why, and I got better results as I persisted in my questioning. All the details may or may not have been useful to me, but I found them helpful. The questioning process wasn’t a fancy or complex way of getting some answers, but it worked.

This article has been less about communication or grammar, but instead more about a methodology of asking questions so that you can resolve your particular situation or problem efficiently and effectively.

Many times in life, we try to find solutions by using complicated or formal multi-step methods; resist that temptation when possible and use the simple approach.

I hope you have a great month in October, thank you for your time today, and please bookmark my blog for easy reference.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA        @randallponder

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