InsightsPOSTED March 30, 2015

Don’t forget to ask why

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why on blackboard

For March, the APEX team is exploring the best communication advice ever.

Over the years, I’ve received wonderful advice and counsel from my parents, mentors, friends, authors and even the odd movie or two.

However, the best communication advice I have selected was more recent.

It was from someone I haven’t known for very long, but the advice was very poignant and revolved around the word why.

One of the things I like best about my job is the opportunity to work with and be around inspiring people. I especially gravitate to those individuals who drive our young industry forward and evoke change.

On March 10, I had the pleasure of attending the IABC Communicator of the Year (COTY) award breakfast in honour of Dr. Alan Middleton, executive director, Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC) and assistant professor of marketing, Schulich School of Business at York University.

Dr. Middleton captivated my attention from the moment he started speaking. Not only because his impressive credentials had piqued my interest, but because he deliberately formulated it that way.

He opened his presentation by playing a little listening game. He listed off six phrases and said he was going to refer to all the topics, but one throughout the duration the presentation.

The person who identified the one word that wasn’t discussed would win a prize. In fully transparent fashion, Dr. Middleton divulged this tactic was to get everyone to listen to his speech.

And listen we did.

His presentation was engaging, pertinent, easily digested and perfectly fit in 140 characters or less.

However, when Dr. Middleton’s discourse stressed the importance of asking why, it struck a chord. He said,

“If we said why more in our daily lives, then we’d stimulate conversation.”

A simple concept and yet one that isn’t employed as often as it should be. He reminded us that a curious toddler has no qualms about raising the question to parents, but somewhere along the line we stop using the three-letter word.

I completed agree with Dr. Middleton’s philosophy. It is all too easy to fall into a mode of complacency and comfort.

It takes courage to ask the simple question, but the potential rewards are plentiful — stimulating personal growth, as well as pushing conversations and ideas further.

Not only was the thoughtful presentation inspiriting, I even won the prize at the end!

Hilary Lawton is a senior consultant at APEX. What communication advice do you have? Let us know here or on Twitter. Also check out what others said.