Do you find yourself casually saying things like “I need to work on my communication skills” or “I’d like to get certified as a…(project management specialist, master facilitator, Microsoft IT professional…)” or “I’m going to…(fill in the blank)” yet never following through? Maybe you start off with some initial enthusiasm then fail to execute beyond the second or third week? If this sounds like you, perhaps you need to connect with your deeper why in order to get better traction.
Being able to clearly articulate why you wish to undertake a particular course of action will ground your next steps and motivate you when you run up against the inevitable speed bumps and detours that typically push you off course.
This is important because all too often we identify somewhat superficial reasons for wanting something instead of reflecting more deeply on why a given activity is worthy of our time, effort and resources. We feel it is something we should do or would be nice to do rather than a need to activity.
Let’s look at an example most of us can relate to – improving our communication skills. There are many ways we can do that – asking better questions, eliminating jargon and complexity, listening to understand, developing our presentation skills, writing in clear language, etc. Before we hone in on what aspects of communication we need to focus on, we need to identify why we want to improve our communication skills and why we should devote our limited time, energy and resources to achieving that outcome. Typical responses might include:
- So I can improve my relationships with others.
- So I can influence others to adopt my ideas.
- To get promoted.
These are all good reasons to improve one’s communication skills and yet they probably aren’t sufficiently motivating when our willpower is challenged by distractions, challenges and unforeseen events. So let’s use a technique called The Five Whys[i] to dig a little deeper.
Why 1: Why do I want to improve my communication skills?
Answer: So I can build trusting relationships with family and colleagues.
Why 2: Why do I want to build trusting relationships with family and colleagues?
Answer: So I have a strong support network to rely on when I encounter challenges and setbacks.
Why 3: Why do I want a strong support network?
Answer: Because I can’t achieve success alone. I need different perspectives and skills to solve problems and achieve my goals. I’m happier knowing I have people who care about me.
Why 4: Why do I want to be successful?
Answer: I want to know I made the world a better place to live. I want people to think of me as someone they can come to with problems and know I will do what I can to help them.
Why 5: Why do I want to be known as a problem-solver?
Answer: Because I love tackling new tasks and challenges and gain a sense of satisfaction when I can help others. I need variety to stay motivated and engaged.
Now those are some pretty powerful reasons to invest in improving your communication skills! And, they can act as strong accountability triggers when we are faced with choices or situations that would otherwise derail our commitment to pursuing that goal.
Try using The Five Whys technique the next time you hear yourself or a team mate say, “We should…” If your answers don’t reveal some strong deeper whys, it may not be something you are ready to pursue. Why do you want to get your project management certification? Why do you want to learn a new language? Why do you want to be the best leader you can be?
[i] The Five Whys technique was invented by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries, and was used initially as a way to find the root source of a problem and then identify a course of action to prevent the problem from recurring.