‘What?’ instead of ‘Why?’ A better question to ask

By John E. Trombley, MMgt
The Village Business Institute

Every once in a while I find myself staring in the mirror trying to comprehend what has just transpired, attempting to make sense of it all. Sometimes the answer is painfully clear while other times the answer remains clouded in mystery. When those times of self-doubt or introspection come about, I am often transported to a place in time when I was challenged to ask a different question from what I had usually asked before.

I’d like to say that I figured it out on my own, that somehow I was so in-tune with myself and so astute that outside intervention was not necessary, but then I wouldn’t be fooling anybody. I can’t remember who is responsible for my sudden surge of wisdom, but I am grateful for the encounter and would sing that person’s praises from the rooftops if I could. For me, it was that big of a deal though I realize that for others, it will not be. And that’s okay with me.

So what was this great and powerful new question I was encouraged to ask of myself? Before I answer that, it might be helpful to share what I usually asked when things would happen that were often unforeseen and unpleasant. The question was, “Why?” as in, “Why did this happen to me?” (which kind of sounds like, “Poor me, it isn’t fair and I don’t deserve this, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah”. Yep; that’s five ‘blahs’).

Sometimes the answer was obvious, but other times I found myself being held hostage to the situation and without realizing it, asking the “Why?” question would often be the beginning of a death spiral. Then one day someone suggested I ask the question, “What?” as in “What am I supposed to learn from this? What can I do differently next time to produce a different, more desirable result?” Asking “What?” put me on a path to discovery and freedom. It put me in charge of determining my destination rather than being a victim of the circumstances that were often of my own making. Victor versus Victim. Not a bad change for deciding to ask a little different question, I’d say.

Here’s the 30-day challenge, then: Resolve to ask yourself “What?” the next time you find yourself in one of those situations when you are unpleasantly surprised, frustrated, overwhelmed or perplexed. Then write down the answers to the question, reflecting on those things even if they seem intrinsically obvious to you. Finally, pay attention to how it makes you feel and where the answers lead you.

Best wishes on your journey of discovery and good riddance to death spirals!


About the blogger:
John E. Trombley, organization development consultant and training with The Village Business Institute has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo. Prior to founding his own organization development company, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander, and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard—he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.

With over 16 years of experience in providing consulting services and training programs, Trombley has a passion for group process facilitation and corporate training in areas including leadership development, change management, leadership transition processes, managerial coaching, and personality assessment workshops. He is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator, is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management Group Crisis Intervention, and is certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.

For more information, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.thevbi.com.


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