The question “how” is a very nice question, because it is a very simple question. When you ask someone a “how” question, they can usually explain without much fuss what they mean.
“How are you?”
“How do you get to the post office?”
“How is your meal?”
“How is your family?”
“How would you deal with X?”
“How did you become a (insert religion?)”
I say the question is “nice” because it doesn’t trigger too many emotions. People aren’t put off by it usually. You can even ask a question about religion, sex, or politics without getting into too much trouble. See how nice it is?
On the other hand, “how” is your absolute ally in the workplace. This is especially true if you are new to a team or new to a small business. The sad fact is that even in places where they “value initiative,” many times what they really value is someone asking the question “how” repeatedly, because the way that you might want to do something may be contrary to the way it has been done. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it doesn’t stunt creativity, I’m not saying that you should kowtow to everyone, but I am saying that a little bit of diplomacy, exercised by asking a lot more “how,” can go a long way to helping one’s job security (notice, I say job, not career).
Twice in my life I have been fired because I didn’t ask “how,” often enough. I relied on my own creativity to get things done and was summarily handed my hat. On the other hand, side jobs I was working at the same time blossomed in ways I couldn’t have imagined, because, well, they were utterly unconcerned with “how” I was doing what I was doing.
For example: as an English teacher, I had full reign in front of the class room. As a guest in people’s work space, I was given full permission to lead and inspire and guide. It was a terrific time, and I had to create my own “hows,” in response to the request, “teach!”
Some people intrinsically have greater attachment to certain styles, methods, and “how’s.”
How to call a customer.
How to answer the phone.
How to handle a problem.
How to cook a dish.
How to dress.
How to build something.
How to move something.
How to write.
The sad part is they don’t realize this. Instead of saying “oh, hey, I appreciate your approach but next time, could you do it like this _____, because_____.” They just ask you, “how are things going?” without proposing a real solution.
Now in my opinion the real reason that people lose their minds over “how”is because they have lost touch with their “why.” It’s the bigger, deeper question of “why” that has to be answered so confidently, that they are able to see how your ideas and contributions to “how” are also valuable.