Ask : “Why is that the case?”

For your business you’ll nearly always want to know why something is happening – not just that it is happening.


You don’t want to know why simply out of curiosity.  That’s useless.  You want to know why so that you can take action.


Imagine a customer satisfaction survey shows you that your customers are less happy than they were before.  Ok – that should set the alarm bells ringing – as you can expect a downturn in sales – and you could suffer reputational damage.  So you need to find out why they are less happy.  You need to know what’s going wrong so that your remedial action can be correctly targeted.


Or you’ve run an employee workshop and have learnt that your employees are more engaged than they were before.  Why?  What have you been doing to cause that?  If you can identify that then you can be sure to maintain it or maybe even do more of it.


One morning recently I was listening to the radio and a woman was being interviewed about a survey that showed a reduction in the number of women employed in Ireland in senior management positions.  I’m not sure whether she was involved directly in the research or if she was simply there to talk about the results.


In any case, the interviewer thankfully asked her what explanation she had for the observed downward trend.  She said she had none – but that they “surmise” that it was because of the recession.


Now before she went too much further I began to tune her out because of firstly her honesty over not having an explanation but also secondly because of her use of the word “surmise”.


I’ve always thought that “surmise” means the same thing as “guess”.  I checked and yep – the “guess” word is there – as is “conjecture”.  The site also says that to “surmise” is to “think or infer without certain or strong evidence”.


When I’m designing a questionnaire for a client, whether it’s to be used in an online survey, focus group or interview, I always use the “why” word to probe.


Try to never surmise.  Doing so might cause you to head off in a wrong direction and perhaps even take counterproductive action!


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