Few things do a better job in framing our choices than a question well asked. Questions illuminate paths. They zoom in into certain sections of the world leaving others aside. They open some doors and close others. They have the power to make our choices visible but also to conceal other options. We pay attention to questions and we are what we pay attention to, hence we are only as good as the questions we ask.

In a previous blog post I shared some of the questions we might want to ask everyday to try and become better versions of ourselves. One of these is “What wouldn’t get done unless I do it?” The power of this question lies in shifting our perspective towards our own actions and unique strengths, and it makes us think of all the small ways in which we can start making the world a better place right now. The Question Behind Question concept brings this to a whole new level. Read on.

Photo by pine watt on Unsplash

Outlined in this fantastic little book, it is, like most impactful things I guess, based on a simple premise – that we need more personal accountability and ownership, be it in in our professional lives or our roles as parents, friends, lovers. How can we unlock the power of accountability and start taking actions? As insights from cognitive psychology and behavioural economics show, one of the best ways to incite and implement change is by reframing the choices we make.

All of our actions are responses to questions posed by our environment. Jumping when you see a snake? A response to the question “Should I stay or should I go?” Yelling at your partner? A response to the question “What do I think is the best course of action in this situation?” Procrastinating at work? A response to the question “Should I do this now?” The problem with all this? Yes, we never actually ask these questions, which means that we never made a choice really. What if we did ask ourselves if these are the right courses of action? What if we were able to pause for a moment and ask a question that goes beyond our initial reaction in a difficult situation? That is exactly what QBQ suggests that we do:

The Question Behind the Question is built on the observation that our first reactions are often negative, bringing to mind Incorrect Questions (IQs). But if in each moment of decision we can instead discipline ourselves to look behind those initial Incorrect Questions and ask ourselves better ones (QBQs), the questions themselves will lead us to better results.

Miller, John G.. QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (p. 17). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

QBQ questions are focused on what I can do to change the situation; Incorrect Questions on the other hand do the exact opposite: they push us into victim thinking, blaming, and procrastination; they focus us on others; and they don’t incite action.

QBQ questions have a simple form really. They (spoiler alert):

1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”).

2. Contain an “I” (not “they,” “we,” or “you”).

3. Focus on action.

Miller, John G.. QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (pp. 113-114). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Here’s how to put this into practice today:

  • Instead of asking “Why is this customer so demanding?”, ask “What can I do to respond to this challenge?” or “What can I learn from this experience?”
  • Instead of saying “If only marketing gave us better materials I would be selling so much more.”, ask “How can I sell more with the materials I have in my hand?”
  • Instead of asking “Why aren’t people motivated?”, ask “What can I do to help them?”
  • Insteard of complaining that your peers “Are not up for the challenge”, ask yourself “How can I contribute to your thinking?”
  • Instead of asking “Why is my partner never doing what I want?”, ask “How can I get closer to him/her?”, “How can we find things we want to do together?”

My best wishes for a great day ahead and remember – everything communicates, everything impacts.

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