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Problem-solving skill is a vital tool in any business on every level in every department. And, as the executive coaching handbook goes, the first thing is to understand the cause of the issue and drill down to the very root cause. A lot has been said about the importance of eliminating the root cause of the problem. However, not enough is told about the appropriate questioning techniques that will allow to examine the situation and discuss any arising issues in productive and professional manner.

Techniques like ‘5 Why‘ – although provide a good starting point – might bring more trouble than do good; trust me. I wish someone told me that when I found myself in a position of regional manager in B2B sales. Having all ambition in the world and, what I then believed, good interpersonal skills, I learned the importance of avoiding ‘Why’ the hard way.

So what do good leaders do differently?

Learn From Journalism

How do journalists manage to provide a clear and full picture of events in a few sentences? Understanding of the simple yet effective structure of reporting will help us to analyse the underlying issues more effectively.  Five ‘golden questions’ of journalism are What, Who, Where, How and Why and while this is a very simple structure, it works perfectly for exploring the issue in any other context, including business management and problem solving. By asking these five questions you should get all information required, with only one little ‘hiccup’ – the Why part always seems to be the hardest one to crack. While the first four questions elicit purely or mainly factual data, the Why question is most likely to drive the discussion to an unwanted direction.

Why Is ‘Why’ The Most Problematic Question?

Can you remember last time someone told you “why did you do that?” and how did you feel about it? Not a pleasant place to be. Most likely it made you feel as if they are trying to blame you or make you accountable without exploring the subject matter. It also might have made you feel guilty and apologetic or quite on contrary, made you internalise and become protective. Whatever the response, it is likely that the discussion will move away from professional to personal and potentially become a painful blaming game. Expect for abrupt answers and closed body language that will make it harder for you to get though the process. Asking too many Why’s on a daily basis will not only prevent you from finding the real cause of the problem, but will earn you a reputation of a boss who always searches for someone to blame. The loss of motivation among employees as well as low staff retention will inevitably follow with your bad reputation.

How to Explore The Why Without Getting Into Trouble?

Here, of course, I am not suggesting that you should ditch all attempts to get to the root of the problem but merely suggest to employ a more productive language. Good life coaches – and leaders – learned to bypass the protective personal reaction by skipping on Why. Instead, try using one of the following questions:

For what purpose?
For what reason?
Based on what assumptions?
Based on what facts?
Driven by what factors?
What affected the decision?
What were the driving factors?

By using ‘less personal‘ questioning technique you are guaranteed to get the answers without gaining new enemies. Try it now and see for yourself how it will change your life.