Sridhar Ramanathan also blogs at www.ideasrs.com.
There was a family function at home and the house full of our guests. We had employed a cook for the day.He was working with us and was also handling an assignment in a near by building.
My wife wanted the cook back on something important (these were days before the advent of mobile). So she asked our daughter to go and get the cook. She gave no further instructions.
As our daughter was leaving home to look for the cook, I asked her: “How are you going to find him?”
“Oh! I will look for a flat with lots of chappals outside.”
“Because a flat with lots of chappals means, lots of guests. Look outside our flat today. Lots of guests means you can’t handle the kitchen alone. So you will have a cook.”
She came back with the cook.
I wondered what answers would I have got if I had asked “What are you going to do?”
“I am going to look for the cook.”
“Where will you look?”
“In that building.”
“Now , Dad.”
I would have got precise answers but I would not have got any wiser.
Enter Rudyard Kipling and his five wise men:
“I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
I call them What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who”
The interesting thing about these questions is that each question serves a different purpose. What, Who, When, & Where get us precise answers. Why & How expand the scope of our discussion.
How & Why are more useful when talking to a child. But most of stay with the first four because we are in a hurry to finish the conversations with children, thinking “Well we don’t have much in common.” The fact is “How” & “Why” can create a bridge that can be interesting.
Check this short conversation, where the wrong question is a conversation stopper.
One of our neighbours fell down and had a fracture on her left hand.
“WHAT is this?” I asked.
“I have a fracture.”
“Oh I mean, HOW did that happen?” Then she told me the story.
One more example of a conversation with a child.