The 7 levels of why is a technique that I originally believed I developed based on my own experimentation. In my experience, three levels of questions rarely get to the real cause of an issue. While I thought I learned this technique of questioning based on experience, I am an avid reader, and I am confident I originally learned this concept from a book or possibly several.
The technique is more commonly known as Five Why's. The iterative interrogative technique was developed by Sackichi Toyota to get to the true root of the problem. Chip and Dan Heath in the book Made to Stick talk about "Three Why's" as the way to find the emotional core of an idea. By asking why three times they believe it is possible to find the true emotion in an idea.
The seven levels of why is a tool I regularly use in business. I recently had a conversation with a friend about how the technique can be applied to relationship building. My friend David Hermes described his experience using free pizza as a way to build relationships with college students. He relayed the story about how free pizza was successful in building his lifelong friendship with a now former college student named Dan Lee. He subsequently told me that free pizza did not work with some students. I suggested applying this technique to get to the real answer to his question.
Asking great questions is one of the keys to success in life. Implementing the technique of seven why's requires skill and practice. Asking why more than three times in a row will likely result in extreme frustration unless you know the person well or have their permission to use this technique. I have provided seven sample questions below that can assist my friend David with getting at least to five levels of why. If implemented well, the questions will likely end in a relationship built with the person, in this case the college student.
Q1.Why aren't you eating the pizza?
Because it has pork on it.
Q2. Are you able to share with me why you don't want to eat a pizza with pork on it?
Because it is unclean.
Q3. Why is it important to you that you eat food that is clean?
Because I want to be a good Muslim.
Q4. Most people want to be good, but specifically what motivates you to be a good Muslim?
Because I grew up in the Middle East and my whole family is Muslim.
Q5. Wow, when did you move to the U.S?
5 Years Ago
Q6. Only five years? What is it like to be a Muslim college student in the U.S?
Q7. What should Americans on this campus be doing to build relationships with the Muslim community?
I hope this technique provides a pattern that will have practical application for you in your career or in building relationships. The key to implementing the technique is to keep it conversational. Listen well and demonstrate a genuine interest in the answers provided. Vary the way you ask why and you may just end up with a new friend or three.