Stop Asking “Why?” Ask “How” and “What” Instead

As a project manager, discussion plays a crucial role. Certain days, I may have up to seven meetings. When the meetings are all done, I have to prepare meeting minutes and take action on the agreed task. Having an effective meeting is important. All of us dread the meetings that go on forever and with no outcome.

To get the information that we need, we have learned to ask “what”, “why”, “when”, “how” and “where”. From my experience, I have stopped using “why”. I have replaced “why” with either “what” or “how”.
Here is an example of a discussion where someone did “X”. Regardless of the outcome, we sometimes need to understand the justification behind the decision.

There are three ways to start a discussion.

“Why did you do X?”
“What do you intend to achieve by doing X?”
“How to get our intended results, by doing X, ?”

See the difference? By asking a “what” and “how”, the question points towards the action or the topic that is being discussed. If you are asking a “why” question, it is perceived as confronting the person. This put the person in a defensive mode. The discussion will quickly turn cold and goes nowhere.

It is not easy to have a mind switch by avoiding the use of “why”. I have personally struggled with it. It is better to go into a meeting prepared. Besides learning the facts, but also prepare some questions. The questions should not be confrontational but focus on the discussion point.
All of us cannot avoid meetings. But we can make the best of it.
Our working life is not a reality show where every week someone gets voted out. There is no need to work with the person anymore. Good or bad, we will be working with each other on a daily basis. Therefore it is important to keep the relationship professional and positive. The less confrontational we are, the more willing are people to work with us.

Good luck.

How To Learn When You are Busy

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and diligence.
Abigail Adams

Like you, I wanted to learn as much as possible. Knowledge is power and power has to be seized. How do you seize that power? We are all busy. Where do we find the time?

Schedule learning. Having the excuse of not having time to learn is like saying not having the time to put petrol in your daily transport. No matter how busy, you will still find time to put petrol in your vehicle. Not having time is an excuse, not a reason. Rather, it is how badly you want to learn.

Just pick what you need. In school, we learned by reading a book from cover to cover. Was it effective? We probably retained less than 10% of what we read. Instead of reading from cover to cover, read the book’s chapter list and index, pick up the knowledge that you need. It is also okay that we do not finish a book. I understand books can be expensive. If a sentence in a book can change your life, it is already worth the price you paid for the book.

Listen to audiobooks. We are all busy. Carving out the time to read can be difficult. The next best way is to listen to audiobooks. Listening to audiobooks can be as effective as reading. Depending on the type of books, you can even speed up the playback. I would vary between 1.25 and 1.5 times of normal playback speed.

Listen to the author’s podcast or TedTalks. Instead of a book tour, authors now attend podcast or give TedTalks as a form of promoting their books. Some of the podcasts are long-form where podcaster would deep dive into the topics that the authors are interested. Through the conversation, you will pick up information that the author feels it is important. In TedTalks, speakers are given 18 minutes to present. As such, if an author has something to say. The author will have to present it in 18 minutes. That would probably be the best 18 minutes that you can ever invest.

You may not even need to pick up the book. To sell books, certain authors would expand certain ideas into unnecessary pages where it could have been more effective with a tighter writing.

Take notes. If you are read without taking notes, you are not learning. I find myself writing down my notes, I would recall better. Normally I would put all my ideas in a notebook. If necessary, I will transfer some of the ideas into a digital format. Sometimes, it can be time-consuming. Nevertheless, it helps with my recall and my understanding of the topics that I am studying.

Share what you have learned. Use the Feynman Technique to test your understanding. Pretend to teach someone no prior knowledge of your selected topic. If you are overusing words or paraphrasing sentences or paragraphs, you probably need to revisit the topic again. No one to teach to? Share your ideas on a blog. Let the world share your journey.

Learning is a lifelong task. You can only make your learning more efficient, but there is no short-cut. Live a full life by keep on learning. More importantly, you have to take action.