To find an answer or a new way of thinking about things, the questions we ask matter. The right question can illuminate a pathway that a million wrong questions can’t. It can transform a situation.
When we are faced with an issue, or stuck complaining about something, we usually try to reason our way through a series of questions that start with ‘what’s wrong?’. It’s ingrained. Think about it – if a friend sighs, our immediate question is ‘what’s wrong?’
If we are wanting to move out of a certain situation, or create something that matters, asking ‘what’s wrong?’ isn’t a helpful question. It is positional and binary – limiting our course of action or understanding. ‘What’s wrong’ can lead us down a rabbit hole of no possibility. It entrenches what we already know. You might find an answer to what’s wrong (‘my boss’, ‘the government’, my husband/wife’), and you may be right, but there’s no power for you to access any new way of thinking or acting.
A different question has the potential to change everything.
One of my biggest reframes is this: when complaining, or feeling stuck, instead of asking ‘What’s wrong’, ask ‘What’s missing?’
Asking ‘what’s missing?’ believes that there is a new perspective and course of action available to us. It’s imaginative. It provokes curiosity. It’s a very powerful question.
A great example is this: The Hunger Project, in service to its mission of ending hunger, could have lingered in looking at ‘what’s wrong’. There’s a lot wrong in the world which leads to hunger, but finding all those wrong things only leaves you frustrated and with a huge list. Instead, it asked ‘what’s missing?’ and the answer became clear – empowering girls and women. Asking this question more than 20 years ago paved the way for breakthrough programs aimed at creating the leadership and full participation of women and girls.
So your turn. Think of an issue or situation you’re feeling a bit hopeless about. A situation you’re complaining about and where your go-to questions are a combination of:
- What’s wrong?
- Who’s fault? (Blaming others, blaming yourself)
- Why are they doing this to me/them? (victim mindset)
Now reframe it with “what’s missing?”
Let’s look at a hypothetical: You might be complaining about not exercising.
The question – what’s wrong? – leads to ‘I’m lazy’. The question – who’s fault? – leads to ‘It’s because of work, I’m too busy’.
Ask instead ‘what’s missing that I’m not exercising?’ This leads to a different set of answers like ‘I need a buddy to keep me on track’, or ‘a conversation with my boss to get away from work on time 2 nights a week.’ You now have new openings to take action and a path forward.
You can also keep asking ‘what’s missing?’ to get to your core action.
If you’re frustrated about not being listened to at work, asking ‘what’s wrong? ‘leads to ‘I’m not respected. Asking ‘who’s fault?’ leads to ‘They/them/the system’. Either way, you’re feeling like a victim with no power.
Ask instead ‘what’s missing that I might have more influence with my colleagues’? The answer might lead to: ‘I need to build influence to get my ideas heard’. Then ask ‘what’s missing for me to build influence?’ which might lead to ‘I need to connect authentically’. Then ask ‘what’s missing for me to connect authentically?’ which might lead to an action you can take like requesting a one-on-one with your boss, or meeting with a colleague and building trust. You get the picture. This simple reframe puts you in the drivers seat of resolving your complaint and stuckness.
Practice asking ‘what’s missing?’ and see what happens. You can apply this to every area of your life where you seem stuck in judgement or blame. Notice the pull to look for what’s wrong.
Let me know what you find!