Recently, when I picked my eleven-year-old daughter up from school, she began to tell me about a writing competition at school. The winner would receive a $100 savings bond. So I asked her, “What are you going to do?”

She responded, “Daddy, I need you to take me to the store and buy me pens and a notebook.”

I said, “Okay, but that did not answer my question.”

“Yes I did,” she said. “You asked me ‘what,’ not ‘how.’ But I’m just messing with you. My plan is to write a tear jerker!”

She proceeded to tell me that the pens and notebook are the tactics, her plan was to write a tear jerker, and the objective was to win the savings bond. I was amazed. She really had been listening to me talk about “Ways” all this time!

What my daughter understands is that a Way is not a person or a position, but a method of thinking and communicating. Here’s how I break it down:

  • Way One thinking: identify the objective.
  • Way Two thinking: develop the plan.
  • Way Three thinking: execute the details.

Understanding the Ways helps us understand how we need to think and communicate in any situation with any individual at a specific moment. When you have a conversation with someone and can quickly assess which Way he or she is thinking, you’ll be able to more efficiently communicate.

As in the example with my daughter, understanding the Ways helps us tell if someone is talking about objectives, plans, or actions. Once we know that, we can respond appropriately.

If someone is talking about his or her objectives, it’s not constructive to jump in with a list of tactics that could help meet the objective. Finish discussing the objective, develop a plan to meet that objective, and then list the tactics you’ll use to execute on the plan. In the example with my daughter, I was thinking “How,” but I asked a “What” question.

The Ways of thinking are simple, but unfortunately most people aren’t aware of how they’re related to communication and execution. For example, answering phones at the office is a tactic--a “What.” Does the receptionist answer the phone because it’s ringing or because it’s part of good customer service? The “What,” or the tactic, is answering the phone. The “Why,” or the objective, is customer service.

How many of your employees understand how their tactics are aligned to an objective? I can guarantee that when people understand how their “What” is aligned with a “How,”--that in turn directly influences the “Why,”--you’ll begin to see better communication as well as increased employee engagement.

Thinking is individualistic, but communication occurs between two or more individuals. For communication to be effective, you not only have to be thinking the right way at the right time, but the individual you’re communicating with has to, too. Otherwise, you’ll both leave the conversation unclear of what you’ve accomplished.

The three Ways to think and communicate are part of daily life. We might switch thought processes on our drive home from the office, but majority of the time the Way we think and communicate does not change. I might be responsible for my companies’ “Why,” or objectives, but I know that when I get home I need to perform the tactics aligned to my wife’s plan!

By the way, my daughter came home from school the other day and said, “The teacher did not have a very good strategy today.” I’ve created a monster.