It not the WHAT. It is the HOW that matters.
– My sense-making of a current unsavoury issue –
“It not the WHAT. It is the HOW that matters.” is a saying that I have heard throughout my life, becoming more and more frequent when I got into training. But what does it really mean? How does this simple enough saying can make sense of what just happened recently with the debacle of one particular politician cum non-executive chairman of a local GLC?
This particular situation, the unfolding of events in this unpleasant issue is in fact the perfect backdrop to appreciate the above saying. Let’s first examine what it really means?
The WHAT in this saying refers to the message, the intent or let’s generalize it as the content of what is to be said or done. The HOW in this saying refers to the mechanism, the way or what was done to deliver the message, the intent or the content.
Let’s take communication as an example. The WHAT could be apologizing while the HOW is what was said to convey the apology. In training, the WHAT is the intent to make improvement and the HOW is the way the feedback is given. In parenting, the WHAT is to make the child realise it is a dangerous act while the HOW is the way it was delivered.
For me, contextually, the WHAT is the transaction while the HOW is the transformation.
Now, is it true the WHAT matters less than the HOW? This question has bugged me for a long time. Isn’t the message important? How can the HOW be more important when the HOW doesn’t exist if the WHAT is not there in the first place? Well, to me, inherent in the saying is an assumption that the WHAT has been determined and now the time has come to ensure the HOW carries the WHAT. That is why the HOW now matters since the WHAT is handled. What is not being said is that, just because your WHAT is handled, you don’t need to care about the HOW.
Now let’s examine the HOW of the WHAT. Remember, that the WHAT has been determined since without the WHAT handled, the HOW does not come into play.
So, why is the HOW so important to the WHAT? Well, remember about the WHAT being transformational? That is why the HOW is so important. It is because the HOW is the conduit or tool that affects the receiver of the WHAT. Without an effective HOW, the WHAT doesn’t land of effects the receiver the way the WHAT is intended.
Another factor is that the HOW is directly connected to the attitude, being, worldview and mindset of the source. It is through the HOW that people are affected or transformed.
People as the receiver gets the WHAT pretty straightforward because it is transactional in nature. However, the characteristic and personality of the WHAT is determined by the HOW it was delivered (the transformational part of the equation).
Let’s take an apology as an example of a WHAT. We get the message that it is an apology yet because of the HOW the apology is delivered, we feel (the transformed bit) it is not sincere or even serious because the apology is done (the HOW) nonchalant, as a matter of fact, condescending and comical. To make it even worst, the HOW reflects the character of the person delivering the apology. IT speak about him being insincere, indifferent and void of empathy because a person that is sincere and empathetic doesn’t behave in such a way thus will deliver the apology in an empathetic and sincere way.
When there is incongruence between the WHAT and the HOW the WHAT suffers; the message doesn’t come across well and the intent is not reached. That is why the HOW matters once the WHAT has been determined.
Therefore, to now be specific, the termination of his Chairmanship is not about the message he delivered but his character is not befitting of the situation and of leadership. I dare say, the way he delivered the apology has demonstrated his truest character; an arrogant-unempathetic person. He is terminated for being bongkak; that is actually what it was, nothing more, nothing less.
It is a reminder for me to be wary of not only WHAT I am delivering but also HOW I am delivering it since the people are affected not just by the WHAT but also by the HOW. The congruency of the HOW to the WHAT is important.