The Five Whys method is a great way to reveal the root cause of product issues — combining it with Clean Communication can uncover the source of workplace conflicts or the drivers for behaviors, whether productive or unproductive.

While the Five Whys was developed to understand and fix kinks in an assembly line, we’re applying them to the emotional side of life, which is part of what makes work meaningful and also challenging. 

Scenario #1: Imagine a crucial project deadline missed because of tension and a communication breakdown between two employees.

Let’s say Lucas, a product manager, committed to launching an MVP by end-of-day on Friday, but the launch didn’t happen until the following week. Applying the Five Whys with the vulnerability and psychological safety Clean Communication provide, we get: 

  1. Why did Lucas miss the deadline? → He underestimated the time needed to complete it.
  2. Why did he underestimate it? → He was unclear on the requirements and dependencies.
  3. Why was he unclear? → Lucas was too scared to ask for clarifications.
  4. Why did he feel scared? → He had concerns about potential negative consequences.
  5. Why was he concerned? → His previous boss looked down on people who questioned him.

Getting to the root of this problem not only calms the tempest but helps avoid future storms. In this case, the deep dive revealed a gap in management’s expression of the company’s values and processes — and gave Lucas’s team an opportunity to meet his needs for clarity and acceptance.

Important: Make sure you don't stop at revelation. You’ll need frameworks in place to make sure there’s follow-through.  Small problems gone unchecked turn into big problems — but small problems recognized and unaddressed grow into resentment.

Put yourself in Lucas’s shoes. Close your eyes for a second and think about the difference between how you’d feel before this exchange versus afterward, especially if you feel heard and understood. Do you feel a sense of relief? Would you be more comfortable expressing yourself at work moving forward?

Use the 5 Whys and Clean Communication to help with the “B” in DEIB.

Scenario #2: You and your co-MC have a disagreement about whether to do breakout rooms for a company-wide workshop or keep everyone together for the entire time.

This came up recently as part of our culture of retrospection at Storytell, where I shared how important it is to me to give our distributed crew time to work in pairs before coming back together. But why is it important? 

Curiosity prompted the following reflection:

  1. Why do I prefer breakout rooms? → I want everyone to feel comfortable interacting with each other. 
  2. Why should everyone feel comfortable? → To build a culture of togetherness and equal footing.
  3. Why is building that culture important?  → Because I don’t believe in hierarchy or class.
  4. Why do I hold this belief? → Every human has equal dignity and worth.
  5. Why is that important? → It holds the seed of hope for humanity.

So, how does this relate to the B in DEIB? As the former Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, Verna Myers’ said, “If diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance,” then belonging is feeling comfortable once you're on the dance floor. That really matters here at Storytell and, I’m hoping, at your workplace, too.