The One Where: We Understand what the Question is

Strange title, isn’t it?


The one where we understand what the question is? What does this mean? Surely every time you answer a question, you understand what the question is? Well… maybe, maybe not.



Have you ever struggled to make a decision?

Made a decision that isn’t comfortable?

And didn’t understand why?




We would suggest, this is because you didn’t understand the question enough, before you answered it. Understanding the question helps with the decision-making process. When you make a decision, you need to understand what you are agreeing too, before you can make a decision – and this is the question you need to understand. This question is often not the question asked.



For example, at a sales review meeting, they were debating whether to do investment A or investment B. The limiting factor is engineering hours, so they couldn’t do both. However, the question shouldn’t have been, ‘should we do investment A or investment B’, the question should have been, ‘how can we best utilise the engineer’s hours?’. This could mean doing investment A or B, or it could be doing something completely different.



Recently in the news, Manchester City were offered Ronaldo by Juventus. The question they posed? “Do you want him”? Man City’s answer to this was “Yes” but the question Juventus posed was not the right question – as seen by the fact he is now moving to Man United.



Taking another example we will work through. If we take a scenario where Adam has been offered two jobs, whilst still employed by another. On the face of it, Adam needs to decide if he wants job 1 or job 2, so the question is simple, right? “What job do you want?” However – this is not the right question.



So, what is the right question? Using Adam as an example, we will go through an example of the decision-making process.



First of all, before we get into the detail, let us understand the high level. This first step is often the step people forget when they get carried away. Why is Adam looking to move in the first place? It could be a number of reasons, including spending more time with his family, to learn new skills, taking a career step or for better remuneration. There isn’t a wrong answer, but understanding this top-level motivator is important to ensure our decisions are consistent with this top level.



Secondly, what options does Adam have available? This can both increase and decrease his available options. Without knowing anything else, Adam has four options:



Option 1: Take job 1

Option 2: Take job 2

Option 3: Stay in current job

Option 4: Leave job and do not take either job 1 or job 2.



The next step is linking the motivators for wanting to leave his current job, to the options he has:





We then learn jobs 1 and 2 are in London, a two hour commute each day, and his current job is local to him. Each option should be linked back to the motivators, as illustrated above. If Adam wants to leave his current job to spend more time with his family, then choosing to work in London would appear to be inconsistent with his motivators, as he will likely be spending more time travelling to and from work.



Option 4, to leave current job and not to take a new role, can be discounted if Adam isn’t prepared to risk being out of employment. Although option 3 does not meet any of the motivators, it might remain an interim solution.



From the above illustration, Jobs 1 & 2 meet the motivators for wanting a new job, with the exception of more time away from family. Can you see how the question has changed from “do you want job 1 or 2”? The question now becomes “is Adam prepared to sacrifice time with family for the perfect job”? If the answer is ‘no’ then the alternative is to remain in current role whilst continuing to look for a new role that fits the criteria. And in Adams case, don’t apply for roles in London! Again, the answer to the question doesn’t matter, it’s about going through this process to understand what the question really is.



If there are any questions that are not obvious, or you struggle to make the decision, these can be further broken down, for example, if Adam isn’t sure how he feels about traveling to London, then this can be broken down further – the important part of this process, is that we can identify the question – in this case “am I prepared to travel into London”. The answer could be ‘maybe’ if flexible working is a possibility.



It is important to recognise this is an example, and not all options have been considered.



Taking a step back, going through the process and actually understanding what you are trying to achieve, allows you to fully understand what the ‘right’ question is. Over time, you will get better at this, and a useful interim step is to practise breaking down the question and taking one question at a time is really useful. It helps to understand each decision point. This then allows you to identify which part of the decision, you are finding the hardest part to answer, which is important as you can then address this.



Being able to go through this process, is really valuable. It can be applied at any level. We used Adam as a simple example, but this could easily be applied to the C-Suite when discussing strategic options, i.e., the motivators would become the mission and the executives would then be able to see how the strategic options they are discussing links back to the overall mission.


Next time you hear a question as yourself, is this the real question? Can you identify the real question? Give it a go – see if it helps you.