The Question Behind the Question | Gagen MacDonald

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The Question Behind the Question

Jan 23, 2015
I ask a lot of questions. So much so that that my team makes sure to warn anyone headed my way. Those who know me well get used to it and simply say “I don’t know” or “I need to think about it” once I’ve pushed past their point of comfort. Those who don’t know me well can become uncomfortable. And those full of baloney usually become angry.I was trained at an early age. My father was a trial attorney and my mom was fascinated with philosophy and psychology, so rarely did I state a point of view without being asked what was behind it. I’m certain that even during my pesky toddler years my parents asked “why?” more than I did.In my family, asking questions is an act of honoring one another. And in business, I stand by Plato’s maxim: “Sometimes the question is more important than the answer.”Like many executives, I was taught to get to the root of an issue by asking the simple question “Why?” five times in a row. Through this, I learned that often the best way to solve a problem is to dissolve it.I’ve also learned that while many people are eager to share a lot about what they’re thinking, they’re less inclined (or able) to talk about why they think it or how they got there. For some, that line of inquiry feels more like an inquisition.So I was fascinated to hear another CEO share how she navigates that challenge as Denise Ramos shared with me the self-talk she goes through to remind herself to be “less intense.”Denise is very smart, extremely well-read and an amazing combo of left- and right-brain thinking. She’s also very reflective. She could probably win any debate—yet she’s looking for a conversation and for what she’s missing in her own thought process.Denise has learned the art of the “why behind the ‘why?’” She’s learned that she can best tap into the thinking of others by first giving them insight into what’s going on her head. She told me that she’s most effective when she starts by saying, “I don’t know the answer here…” or “I’m trying to figure out what I’ve missed.”I’m so glad I got to sit down with Denise and ask “Why?” I not only learned about her leadership, but my own.
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