Why Do You Ask?

Lance Creativity, Discipline, People Leave a Comment

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Whenever someone follows up your question with one of their own — “Why do you ask?” — tension is born.

  • It halts your pursuit of the information you seek;
  • It questions the apparent relevance of your question to the conversation at hand (“WHY do you ask?”);
  • It challenges your authority to ask  your question in the first place (“Why do YOU ask?”).

Imagine an interviewee responding with such a question:

  • “Why did you choose marketing as your field of study/career?” — “Why do you ask?”
  • “Why did you leave your last job with XYZ Inc?” — “Why do you ask?”
  • “What would your plan be for your first 90 days in the role?” — “Why do you ask?”
  • “You are tasked with cleaning all of the windows in a city. How would you estimate the number of windows you will need to clean?” — “Why do you ask?”

It’s curtains for that guy’s prospect for getting the job, right?

However, instead of bristling at the tension, embrace it instead. In fact, build the tension into your leadership DNA by asking yourself (or empowering someone on your team to ask): Why do I ask that? Like so many trial lawyers during jury selection, leaders can fall into the rut of mindlessly asking the types of questions one is supposed to ask in circumstances like an interview without really thinking about why. A mindful approach to question asking in any context requires some thoughtful rigor aimed at two obvious questions:

  1. What are you trying to learn/discover/uncover? — What is the point of the conversation? If an interview, what are the 3-4 essential things you have predetermined to be necessary ingredients to a successful team member?
  2. What questions are relevant to that goal? — If you can’t trace a line from your question to one of the objectives identified in #1, why are you asking the question? To do this well is harder than most think. Though it is the most basic concept in the rules of evidence that govern courtrooms all across the country, it is also the most difficult to master.

If the position you are hiring for regularly involves solving bewildering logic problems with zero information, by all means keep asking about the number of sprinkler heads in Arizona. If not, embrace the much harder task of understanding what you are looking for and — harder still — how to actually get it.