Insight and asking “What” instead of “Why”

We all think we know ourselves pretty well. But do we?

In an article based on her book, Insight, Dr.Tasha Eurich explores the concept of self-awareness. We all think we are pretty self aware. Some insights from her researched showed that:

… most people believe they are self-aware, (yet) self-awareness is a truly rare quality: We estimate that only 10%–15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me is that her analysis of many studies indicates a different way of improving self awareness. She says that we tend to think asking “Why” questions is the best way to improve our self awareness. But in actuality, “What” questions are a much better way.

“What” questions versus “Why” questions

With “Why” questions, we tend to look inward. And often when we look inward, we blame ourselves or think of our own inadequacies. We also do not recognize the internal biases we all carrying around (“I must have messed up somewhere”) and the unconscious thinking that goes on (“they already don’t like me”). The self reflection that comes from “what” questions is great in many ways. We challenge ourselves. We get deeper into ourselves.

Dr. Eurich makes an excellent recommendation that effective introspection should begin with asking “what” not “why”. Her rationale is that by asking “what” we allow ourselves to remain more objective, internalize less, and become more confident to act. Instead of the mounting self-criticism that comes from asking “why”, we can ask “what” are the situations and actions that are caused the issue and how can they be corrected.

Applying these concepts to career and job seekers.

I think about all of the times that people feel like their “qualifications were perfect for the job, but I did not get the offer”. They are left dumbfounded. And their confidence is bruised. So they think “why” they did not get the job. Usually the answer to the “Why?” question is self rumination (Eurich calls this introspection), not self awareness.

I now understand better how “What?” questions might help you get to some answers in job search. Let me provide a few examples.

Example #1. “I did not get the job because there really was not a true job opening.” That is sometimes the case. Companies are on “fishing expeditions” for talent or are anticipating a future opening. But this example of your thinking is still you guessing, after you don’t get the job.

Try this. When prompted for any questions in an interview ask, “What is the time frame you looking to fill this position”? If the answer is “now”, you know there is an opening. Any other answer (“we are looking at a number of candidates” or “we are early in the process so it will be a while”) probably tells you there is no immediate opening – or at least you are not the top candidate.

Example #2.“I felt the interview went pretty well.” But did you get any real feedback from the interviewer? Here is an alternative. Research indicates that one of the top 3 reasons for not getting a job is this: the candidate talks too much in an interview. When the interviewer asks you at the end of the interview if you have any questions, try this: “I have learned from previous interviews that I tend to give answers that are too long (or too short). I have been working on getting more concise. What can you tell me about how I did on providing my answers?”

Whoa, talk about being direct! Here are the advantages to that question. First, you get direct feedback from the interviewer. Second, you let the interviewer know you are self aware. Third, you indicate to the interviewer you want to get better. And, whatever answer they give you, you can follow up with this:”Thanks so much for your input, it is important to me in anything I do that I get better at it. Your input is going to help me, thanks.” Now you have reminded the interviewer of your desire to improve (what company doesn’t want that?). AND, you made the interviewer feel good because they helped you! Think that makes you more memorable? Isn’t that better than feeling inadequate?

Example #3. Another top five reason for not getting a job according to hiring mangers is you did not ask good enough questions. Try this. Instead of “How do you determine if someone is successful here”, try, “What do people who don’t make it here do wrong?” This might sound like a negative question. However, it makes you stand out because it is a VERY different question from what everyone else asks. Also, it provides a great opportunity for follow up. Whatever the other person responds with, you get the chance to say how you are not like the person that fails. Third, it may also tell you a lot more about the culture of the company (if the answer is something like, “an unsuccessful person is the first one to leave the office every night”, you have got a lot of information).

Interviewing and career planning are more than your experience, your qualifications and your preparation. It is an opportunity to learn and become more self aware. Like most things in life, you need to know the right way to learn to do it correctly. Building a little self awareness is going to put you at an advantage to everyone else.

If you would like to read Dr. Eurich’s article, it is here: I also highly recommend her book, Insight.


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