I have recently been reading a book by John G. Miller titled, The Question Behind the Question. A sizable number of things in this book presented themselves to me in “ah-ha!” moments, but one point in particular really struck a harmonious chord in my thinking. It is the realization that we are all accountable for everything that we say, think, and do. We are in complete control of both our negative and positive thoughts and these thoughts steer and direct us down the highway of our personal and professional lives.
“It’s a sad fact that when most of us are faced with a frustration or challenge of some kind, our initial reaction tends to be negative and defensive, and the first questions that occur to us are the incorrect questions. The moment IQ’s pop into our heads, we have a choice. We can accept them, or reject them, choosing instead to ask better, more accountable questions such as ‘What can I do to make a difference and how can I support the team?’” -John G. Miller
I think we can all relate to times where it has been extremely difficult to take responsibility for actions performed by other people. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a difference between actually being responsible for someone else and being responsible for your team or company. You can’t control what somebody else does, but you can control how you respond to what they do. If someone does you a disservice, you can still choose to serve them despite their actions.
“The definition of the QBQ is this; a tool that enables individuals to practice personal accountability by making better choices in the moment.”-John G. Miller
I remember my days as a barista at Starbucks very clearly. I peeled my eyelids open every morning, starting at 4:30, and began my 8 hour work shift. Immediately when I arrived, the opportunity to ask the incorrect questions (or at Miller calls them, IQ’s) presented itself. “Oh my word, why can’t night shift just clean up like they are supposed to?! Why are there still old pastries in the pastry case?! Why are the floor mats still covered in coffee grounds?!” Before my shift began I was already the victim, preparing my confession. “Well you see boss, I did my job all morning yesterday, and then when I came in today everything was messed up. It’s not my fault, it’s night crew’s fault! We would have opened on time today if I didn’t have to do the job of closer and opener, all in the span of 30 minutes!”
Now, let’s think about if I had walked in the door, saw that there was more work to be done than there should have been, and immediately decided to ask the Question Behind the Question. My whole day, and not to mention the day of those around me, could have changed. “Well, looks like these floors need to get cleaned. Now let’s see, how can I organize my short 30 minutes before customers arrive to get this done as well as brew three batches of coffee?” Those are the right questions. Those are the questions that inspire people to become better workers, better thinkers, and better people.
“When we choose to ask the question like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ we feel as if we have no control. This leads us to a victim mindset, which is extremely stressful. Even in cases where we actually are victims and our feelings seem justified, ‘Why me?’ Thinking only adds to our stress.” -John G. Miller
Yes, bad things happen sometimes. The economy sours, our business struggles, the stock market tumbles, jobs are lost, people around us don’t follow through, deadlines are missed, projects fail, and good people move on. However, within everything that happens, we have the privilege of choosing how we respond. We can either ask the wrong questions and play the victim of our circumstances, or we can ask the right ones and conquer every obstacle that comes our way.