I am obsessed with a certain question. I think you should be too.
The question is: What am I missing?
I started thinking this way when I was a newspaper reporter in my 20s. It was literally my job — to go into a situation, or investigate some matter, and be constantly alert to what was important but overlooked.
Eventually, however, it started shaping other parts of my life. Some of this was positive: If a friend ghosted me, for example, I wouldn’t immediate think they’re a jerk. I’d ask, What am I missing?, and consider what else might be going on in their lives. If someone made a claim that seemed strange but believable — say, some political something or other — I’d wonder, What am I missing?, and go learn the context behind it.
The question became my “dominant question” — a phrase I learned from the renowned brain coach Jim Kwik.
We all have a dominant question; it’s the filtering mechanism we use for our lives. Jim advises that we be aware of it, and also aware of how it benefits and holds us back. When I told Jim about mine, for example, he said it can help me be more thorough and analytical, but also lead me to a lot of FOMO. That’s also true: I drive my wife crazy because, if we’re out somewhere and she’s tired, I reaaaaally don’t want to go back home. What if there’s more to experience? What am I missing!??
(For more on this, by the way, pick up my book: I devote a chapter to this subject.)
Recently, I came across another powerful use of my question. And it all began with a big, ugly mess on Twitter.
Here’s a tweet that went viral:
my sister got married yesterday and the groom started his vows with “kate, you are a bully” and proceeded to give like 50 examples of how she’s bullied him in the last 10 years, and then he said “but you are MY bully, and I love you for it” and I started bawling. love is real— jasminericegirl (@jasminericegirl) December 13, 2022
Cute, right? What a fun couple! Truly, my favorite part of weddings is when the couple bring their full, funny, playful lives into their vows.
But when people on Twitter read this, they went crazy.
The amount of utterly deranged responses from strangers accusing [her] sister of being abusive is astounding,” wrote Ryan Broderick on his Garbage Day newsletter, which is where I first heard about this. He highlighted one: A wellness author tweeted that “no matter how much they love each other, these communication styles signal a short marriage.” To which Rosie Nguyen, the author of the tweet, replied, “you were not at the wedding also you don’t know these people.”
What is happening here? Why do so many people see something, take it wildly out of context, and then make very large assumptions about other people’s lives and intentions? It’s an important question, because of course, this is not an isolated event on the internet. It happens all the time.
Ryan has an interesting explanation:
I think there are two things happening here that have become so prevalent online that we don’t even really register how weird they are anymore: One, we assume that everything we are seeing in a piece of content is somehow representative of the entire situation. And, two, weirdly enough, we also think there must be more to the story than how it’s being portrayed and that if we dig into the piece of content deeper we can reveal that truth.
It’s a compelling point, and you can see how it drives conspiracy theories, internet pile-ons, hate mail, and more. People assume they have all the information they need, and that also there is something hidden that requires exposing.
And now, just imagine how much of this could be shortcut if people asked one simple question whenever they saw something curious or confusing.
Imagine if people asked — yes, you guessed it — the question: What am I missing?
Does a tweet about some wedding vows confuse you? Well, what are you missing? Here are some things to start: You don’t know literally anything else about these people’s lives. You don’t even know what else they said during their vows. You don’t know if humor is a key part of their relationship. If they love to make each other laugh. If their family and friends know this about them, in a way you don’t. Start to list out everything you don’t know — everything you’re missing — and you start to see how impossibly foolish it is for you to render any kind of judgment.
All of which is to say: The question What am I missing? leads us to greater understanding of each other. It gives us a moment to pause. To consider.
Imagine applying it at work now.
Sales are down — what are you missing about your customers?
Someone on your team is suddenly underperforming — what are you missing about their work, or life, or your own leadership?
You’re feeling stuck in your role — what are you missing about the opportunities around you, either in or out of your job?
Sure, this question isn’t perfect. It comes with downsides too. You can spend your life looking for what’s missing, instead of appreciating what’s not. But on the whole, I think it’s a good dominant question. It has served me well. And if something’s missing from your way of thinking, maybe this question is it.
This essay is from Jason Feifer’s newsletter, which helps you think smarter and act bolder. Want more? Subscribe for free here.
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