Early in my career, I worked at a startup where I learned a phrase that has helped drive me to understanding faster in more situations than I can count. The developer (I guess he would be considered a DevOps guy now) was named Dave and I came to him with a question one time. I don’t remember what the original question was, but I clearly remember his reply:
OK, but what’s the question \*behind\* the question?
This has stuck with me for over 10 years. One simple phrase that drives home two key points about communication:
- Listening requires paying attention not just to the words, but the intent behind them
- The fastest route is often the most direct one
It is similar to a chess game. When you watch two experienced chess players in a game, you will see one of them move. But behind that move is an entire web of actions and consequences they’ve mapped out – not only in their own moves, but in reaction to the moves of their opponent in reaction to their own moves.
But the goal of chess is to capture your opponent’s king. And, your opponent’s goal is to keep you from doing that. In our day to day conversations, we shouldn’t feel the need to hide behind a complex web of conversations to get to our key point. But we will if we don’t trust how the other person will respond to our question.
As an example, imagine if every time a team member brought up a problem he was having, his manager got riled up to want to go fix it. Soon, the team member learns not to directly engage with the manager, but to ask series of questions to find out what needs to happen, without actually triggering the “direct response”.
As coaches, our job is to be constantly scanning the landscape in front of us, paying close attention to the words, body language, and hidden meanings. We can be effective with that using techniques such as the 5 Whys, but sometimes we just need one phrase:
So, I hear what you are saying. But, what’s the question \*behind\* that question?
You might just track down what’s going on a whole lot quicker.