Here’s a little poll: How many of these questions have you heard? Better yet – how many of these questions have you heard yourself ask?
- Why does this customer expect so much?
- Why are our prices so high?
- When are we going to become more competitive?
- Who made the mistake?
- Why do we have to go through all this change?
- Why don’t I get paid more?
If you’re like most people, you’ve asked a few of these yourself and you’ve probably heard them all. Reasonable questions, right? But are they the right questions?
According to John G. Miller in his book, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, these common questions contribute to blame, complaining, and procrastination. In fact, Miller believes that they actually put us in the role of the victim, waiting for someone else to do the right thing and make it all better. He calls them IQ’s – Incorrect Questions – and suggests replacing them with QBQ’s – Questions Behind the Questions.
The QBQ, says Miller, “…puts the power of personal accountability into daily action, with astonishing results: problems are solved, internal barriers come down, service improves, team-work thrives, and people adapt to change more quickly.”
Miller offers three simple guidelines for asking better questions. He says that QBQ’s:
- begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”);
- contain an “I” (not “they,” “them,” “we,” or “you”);
- focus on action.
The question, “What can I do?” follows the guidelines perfectly. It begins with “What,”, contains and “I,” and focuses on action: “What can I do?” But, Miller cautions, don’t let the apparent simplicity fool you. Asking the QBQ can have a powerful effect on our lives.
Look again at the questions in the list above. Read them aloud. How do they make you feel? There is a powerless quality to them, that of a victim waiting on something to change. Now let’s see what happens when we look for the QBQ. Read these QBQ’s aloud:
- How can I best meet this customer’s needs?
- What unique values separate us from the competition?
- What can I do today to be more effective?
- How can we improve this process and reduce chances for errors?
- What opportunities exist for me in this changing environment? How can I prepare myself to take advantage of them?
- What can I do to advance my career and income?
By giving up the IQ’s and asking the QBQ’s, we move from victim to in control. We’re not just waiting for something to happen; we’re making things happen.
Try it for yourself. When you catch yourself asking an IQ, try turning it around into a QBQ. See if the shift in focus from helpless victim to powerful actor doesn’t change your world. The power of personal accountability is ours to harness. The answers are in the questions.
John G. Miller’s book, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, ISBN 0-399-15233-4) is available at www.amazon.com.