Yes it is, it’s not who? or where? or how? or when? or why?
What? is the ultimate question.
The question that will give you the answer you need; to change, develop, grow or do whatever it is that you want to do.
Of course, the important bit is what comes after the what?
What? can give you a specific response such as, “what colour is this car?” It can also ask you incredibly powerful, insightful, motivational questions such as, “for what purpose?” which is a much more abstract question than, “what colour is this car?”
It can help you solve problems: “what was the reason for this?”, “ What happened after the second step?”, “What made you decide to do it this way?” It can help you with decision making: “what do I need to do next?”, “What step is the next logical step for me to take?”
So now you know it’s the ultimate question, which what? do you choose? The answer of course is. it depends on the outcome you’re looking for. So the first thing to do is set a goal. Once you have set a goal, it makes it a lot easier to ask the right, most insightful, most penetrating most valuable what? question you can possibly construct.
And what? is at the root of the well formed outcome process – the best way of setting goals there is. The first question in the process is, “What specifically do you want?”
Then we have questions like, “what evidence will you have to prove that you have achieved your goal?”, “What will this goal get for you?” Or, “what will it enable you to do?” and, “What will you gain when you achieve this goal?”, “and what will you lose?”
What? can help you understand what you have learned. After getting a whole load of information that you have thought about and processed, ask yourself the simple question: “so what?” It can also help you with your own motivation. Asking yourself, “what’s in it for me?” is going to help you achieve what you want to achieve. We are much more able to perform higher when we are more motivated.
And in a Negotiation asking, “if we give you x, what are you going to give in return?” presupposes that you are going to give some concession. Similarly, as a trainer or teacher, asking, “what questions do you have?” presupposes that there are questions and you are much more likely to be asked questions than if you ask, “are there any questions?”
As a coach, “what do you think you need to do to improve your performance in this area?”, “what would happen if?”
Of course, What? is supported by its less versatile siblings where?, when?, who?, how? and why? but these are all focused on process. For example, “how are you going to do this?”, “where are you going to go to do it?”, “Who’s going to help you do it?” You need to answer the first question which is what? There is of course the black sheep of the family Why? – which is a justifier. Why? should be avoided at all costs if you are trying to elicit some information or movement from people. But why? is the question we use an awful lot. It is a shortcut. It requires no thought, “why have you done that?” is much more likely to be met with an answer like, “I don’t know” than, “what made you decide to do it that way?” This is a much more effective way of getting the right information at the right time in the right way from the right people.
So, what? is very versatile. It can ask specific questions or it can ask abstract questions. All the other open questions are much more limited in their field of operation. So next time you are going to ask a question, think about what you want to achieve, choose an outcome and think about choosing a what? question rather than any of the others. You will find it adds real value to every interaction you make.