Between changes in technology, changes in economic, marketing and business theory, information overload, and this seemingly global simmering anger, the world of work these days can be extremely challenging. Marketing in particular, still often considered by companies as more of an expense than an investment, is plagued by an absolute menagerie of competing priorities for time, budgets and distractions with “the next big thing” ideas. There are days when just getting someone to make a logical decision can be the nearest thing to impossible.
Frustrating is the only way to categorize the emotion that arises in these situations, for all involved. However, we help our clients through this quagmire on a daily basis. Asking the right questions helps everyone focus on the important goal or business problem.
There is one question in particular, that I’ve found can cut through all of the confusion and re-center a conversation on what is most important. And you might be surprised how simple it is. It’s got nothing to do with KPIs or metrics or competencies or budgets or leveraging anything. It is one of the simplest questions you can ask. No, it’s not “why”. Asking “why” is a good question but it generally triggers some kind of emotional judgment on the relative importance of competing priorities, so it’s likely to start a fight if the room isn’t already on the same page. My most important question is much simpler than why, and it can be asked in almost any situation that requires conversation, strategy, or thought. It can even turn down the heat on a disagreement when used sincerely. Here it is:
What problem are you trying to solve?
That’s it. It quite quickly focuses all additional conversation, allowing whatever the issue is to be defined clearly and then solved. If someone can’t tell you what problem they are trying to solve then it’s likely that whatever resistance you are encountering has a purely emotional nexus, and asking the question will help them to realize it too. Even in a scenario where there are multiple issues, this simple question allows you to construct a plan to approach them one at a time.
Try it out the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re getting a lot of “but what if we do this” or “maybe we should” or “what about” kinds of input. You might be surprised how quickly this question gets the focus off of the emotion or distraction or roadblock and gets your project back on track.