How Often Do You Ask Why?

Why do birds fly? Why is the sky blue? Why do you drive a car? Why do I have to wear shoes? Why do I have to go to bed?

Toddlers are relentless in asking “why?” questions.  The questions are driven by sheer curiosity – they want to know about everything and it’s not unusual to hear dozens of “why” questions from a toddler – even if you think you’ve answered their question.

As toddlers become older, they stop asking “why” questions. They’re not less curious – they just assume, more often than not, that they understand “why”.

We all tend to assume – more often than not – that we understand why something happens. In delivering customer service, for example, many people try to correct a problem but rarely try to understand why the problem occurred. When a piece of code breaks, many developers implement quick fixes but often neglect to ask why the code broke (poor Q/A practices? never worked in the first place?).

Toddlers want to be heard and they want to listen. They often don’t really care that you answer their question – but they do care that you listen and they really care when you engage in a discussion with them. For example, a question: “why is the sky blue” can be answered in different ways. One could say that it’s blue because that’s the way the sky looks during the day. Or, one could take an opportunity and talk about the sky being blue on sunny days, gray on overcast days, and gray/black at night when the sun is sleeping. And sometimes, it’s orange or pink.

This is an important lesson for all of us and one we should not forget, particularly when talking to other people, and for those of us running businesses – when talking with our customers and our employees. We should never forget to ask why. If a customer or employee is unhappy and complains, asking a few “why” questions could uncover deeper problems than merely what appears to be the source for that unhappiness. When we answer questions, we should take the opportunity to explain, to probe further, and where possible, educate (if appropriate).

Our customers, employees and people around us want to know that we care about them and their problems, and that we hear them.

We can learn a lot from toddlers.

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