My Favorite Question

My Favorite Question post image

Guest Post by Dr. Burt Lohoff-Gaida

You’ve heard this question hundreds of times, probably even thousands of times, and it never gets old: “Tell me, what do you do?  What they really are asking you is: “What do you do for a living?”

I hate this question, but I can’t seem to ban it from my communication.  In fact, there are days when I might ask it 10-20 times.

As a consultant in the field of human capital development, I attend way too many networking events. The meeting might have 200 to 300 guests all gathered in some fancy hotel ballroom. It’s loud and way to cramped for my comfort. But, I dive in and find a stranger to strike up a conversation with.  Eye contact is made, hands extended and shaken, and then it’s a race to see who will be the first one to ask: “What do you do?”

I’ve always been uncomfortable with that question and I never knew why. It just felt very artificial. Maybe it was because I asked and really didn’t care what the person did for a living. The feeling was similar to asking a complete stranger: “How are you doing today?”   Did I really care? Probably not.

Two years ago a friend sent me a link to a Ted Talk and it helped me understand where my disdain for the question, “What do you do?”, came from.

The video is 18:04 minutes in length and has been viewed by over 24 million people. If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s talk on  “The Gold Circle”, you are really in for a treat.

Sinek’s concept is very simple. He draws three circles on a flipchart, one inside the other. In the middle circle he writes the word “Why”. In the next circle he writes the word “How” and finally, the word “What”.  Then he makes the statement: “And it all starts from the inside out. It all starts with Why.”

In his book, Start With Why (2009), Sinek writes:

When most organizations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY.  Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY the do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money – that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist: WHY do you get out of bed every morning?” (pg. 39)

The WHY question is all about my passion. What work would I love to do regardless of the financial compensation? What work would make the concept of, or the desire for, retirement, disappear? Do you know anyone in their 80s that still loves to work, even though they don’t need to? These are the people who will be able to answer your question: Why do you do, what you do?

So now you know my favorite question:

Can you tell me why you do, what you do? 

The answer to this question will open a window to the person’s heart.

Burt Lohoff-Gaida HeadShotDr. Burt Lohoff-Gaida has 25 years of international experience working in senior human resource roles for four multinational corporations.  You can connect with him at





Link to Ted video: