As a communications professional, you know the feeling — you come up with an innovative idea that you're sure will succeed. Motivated and eager, you present it to your organization’s leadership, only to have it quickly rejected because the company isn't ready for change. You bite your tongue, debating whether you should push back or just roll over and embrace the ever-failing "we've always done it this way" approach.
What if there was an easier way? What if, instead of focusing on how and what you'll change, you focused on why you'd change things? Let's explore how asking one simple question can make all the difference when it comes to making impactful changes in your organization.
Why Is It So Important?
When you ask "why," you’re forcing yourself and your organization to dig deeper into a problem or challenge and uncover potential solutions that may have previously been overlooked. It also helps create an environment where every voice is heard — which can be incredibly beneficial for fostering collaboration and buy-in within your organization. Finally, asking why allows teams to develop unique strategies for approaching difficult tasks — and oftentimes those strategies will work better than traditional approaches.
When you don't ask why, these things happen:
- You make assumptions.
- You make decisions based on incomplete and/or incorrect information.
- You impact relationships.
- You get frustrated.
Ultimately, when you ask why, you're acting as the catalyst to realign your organization so that you're growing and working toward the same goal, keeping everyone happier and healthier along the way.
How Do You Ask Why?
When asking why, it’s important to do so in a way that will encourage success and transparency rather than defensiveness or reluctance from leadership. Here are some examples of "why" questions you can ask:
- If you don't mind me asking, what's your biggest hesitation with this? Is there anything that you do find appealing from this?
- From your perspective, what's the most successful aspect of how we're currently approaching this? Do you see any areas to improve with it?
- My biggest driver for this was to support our goal of [insert goal here], do you have any insight on more appropriate ways to do this? Should I be supporting a different initiative?
- What do you think is the No. 1 goal or initiative that my work should be supporting?
Questions like this can allow you to understand where they're coming from. If their concern is the time commitment it would cause on their end, follow up with questions like, "What could we do differently so this isn't an added burden on your team?"
Depending on what you're pitching to them, these questions might not hit on exactly what you need to ask. No matter what you need to ask, read below for tips on how to approach the conversation.
Ask Yourself First
Before you even present your idea, make sure you've asked yourself questions, like the ones below:
- What would the impact (positive and negative) of this idea, plan or change be?
- Does this support our marketing/communication strategy?
- What am I hoping to achieve with this?
- How will this help us achieve those goals?
- Does this align with the overarching goals, mission, vision and values of the organization?
This ensures that you, in fact, have thought through the idea and can mitigate some of their concerns before even presenting it to your organization.
Asking questions like this isn't always easy; with practice, it can become second nature. Start small by encouraging critical thinking in everyday conversations with co-workers or even yourself! From there, try asking deeper questions in team meetings or brainstorming sessions. This will help ensure that everyone's ideas are being heard and considered fully — which can lead to better decisions down the line. This will also help you figure out what kinds of questions your colleagues are most responsive to. Finally, don't forget to embrace failure! If something doesn't work out the way you had hoped, don't be afraid to ask why until you find a solution that does work.
If you don't truly want to understand their opinion, you'll never truly understand it. Genuinely make the effort to see where they're coming from so that you can see how your idea really stands up. You might not always agree with them, but you should seek to understand them.
Not all questions are created equal — some can create defensiveness while others can ignite inspiration within teams and leadership alike. Be sure you are asking questions in such a way that encourages collaboration while simultaneously inspiring creativity rather than simply pointing out areas where improvement is needed (though those questions are important, too).
Encourage Questions in Return
Don't just ask questions, but encourage others to question your perspective as well. This not only exudes confidence but encourages your colleagues to voice suggestions or concerns early on, making the process easier along the way.
Start a Dialogue
Once you have an understanding of why they are resistant, start a dialogue with them about the issue at hand. Don't approach this as a one-way conversation — instead, ask open-ended questions that prompt discussion and invite participation from all stakeholders involved, regardless of if they're in a leadership position or not. This will help create an environment where everyone has an equal say and gets heard.
By engaging them in conversation, four things often happen:
- You understand their perspective more. Sometimes you'll understand their perspective more than your own stance on the topic — agreeing that it's better to go another route than what you initially thought. Other times, this perspective will allow you to better explain how your approach will support their goals and make the organization more successful. Either way, you demonstrate respect for those who are making decisions while also gaining their trust through transparency.
- They're more open-minded. When someone feels heard, respected and valued, they typically will act the same in return. If you've truly listened and understood them, they'll likely make an effort to understand your side more as well.
- Your idea evolves into something even better. By working together, you're likely to expand your original idea, evolving it into something even more impactful and well-rounded.
- It gives you direction to move forward. You can't just ask questions and then re-pitch your idea in the exact same way. You'll use the input you received to do research, make adjustments and mitigate any risks. Then, you can expand on your original pitch to account for the feedback you received.
Next time you come up with an idea that gets rejected by leadership — don’t despair; use this opportunity as a chance to ask questions. By asking meaningful and genuine questions, you can realign your organization so that your marketing and communications efforts are supporting the most meaningful things. This process ensures that every stakeholder's voice is heard, encourages critical thinking, and often results in even more creative solutions being developed. With these helpful tips in mind, you should be well prepared for change-making conversations that foster your organization's success.