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Why Ask Why?

  
  
  

Is it good to ask the why questions?
Or is it bad to ask the why questions?

questionsI recently had a good friend ask me a question about why a certain baseball pitcher makes an unusual facial expression upon releasing the ball. He said that his lips appeared rounded. He said, “Why does he do that?” I have no idea why he does it and frankly I really don’t care. If I told him that, he would get annoyed because it would be construed as a put down. So I said the polite thing: “I really don’t know but what an interesting observation”.

Are you wasting time asking employees or people around you why questions that could become counterproductive? For instance when we ask an employee “why did you show that customer that item?” The way that question is structured is counter-productive. The employee showed/suggested an item because they believed it was a good suggestion. They might be dead wrong but they still believed they were doing the right thing. So what happens is that you are putting down that employee and the employee feels like their self worth has been damaged.

Why questions can create the best constructive criticism but can also foster some of the most sarcastic responses. The other day I tipped over a glass of soda and my wife asked me why did I do that? I felt like saying “because I like to spill soda on the floor and it gives me an opportunity to wash the floor”. Needless to say that would be counterproductive. However, if the question were asked what might have caused the glass to spill the soda and how it could be corrected in the future, that would definitely be more productive.

The other night the Boston Red Sox, my home team, lost a critical game and was eliminated from any post-season play. At the end of the game the announcer said that there will be a lot of why questions asked about this team. There is no question he is right about that but I can assure you they won’t be stupid why questions. They will be questions such as why did we lose? Why did great players not perform? Why didn’t star players hit the ball the way they are supposed to? All of those why questions are productive.

The point is that we need to avoid the why questions that can trigger negative or sarcastic responses. Maybe what we need to do is to change the why questions to what questions. An example would be when the store owner asks “why didn’t that customer buy?” This could have triggered response muttered under an employee’s breath “because she hates you and hates the store.” A more productive question could have been “what would it have taken to have made that sale?” Is it a true learning experience or is it a negative exchange of ideas?

So if you are asking why I wrote this article, I could respond “because I felt like it” or I could say something like I believe the words we choose to use can affect the outcomes we receive. The why question can generate responses that we can easily live without and undermine the basic fabric of our business. That’s why I have chosen to write this article.

Let’s eliminate the negative why’s and ask questions that will move a business forward while generating positive and productive responses.  

Comments

I don't know how bad I am about this, but since I recognize it in others, it's probable that I can do better. It's part of the respect portion of life itself. It certainly doesn't hurt to be reminded to be respectful and helpful ALL THE TIME, even in the circumstances that might elicit a less measured response. It's not a light subject - - - it's a fundamental that the best among us are better at than at least I am. So, Thanks!
Posted @ Tuesday, October 04, 2011 8:18 AM by Peter Rose
Years ago when I was studying counseling psychology I learned that asking "why" questions puts people on the defensive. To the point where it blocks a person's thinking and reflecting on a deeper level. 
 
Negative and sarcastic responses may be part of feeling defensive.
Posted @ Tuesday, October 04, 2011 8:37 AM by Linda Varone
Very interesting article. I think you are right in what you say and I will bear that in mind with my staff, and when the soda gets knocked over at home.
Posted @ Tuesday, October 04, 2011 7:49 PM by Richard
This is something I do without realising the impact it can have - you really can see people immediately go on the defensive when you ask why - there are far more constructive ways to do it.
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Posted @ Saturday, October 08, 2011 2:21 AM by Canada Goose Parka
i want to know why why is why
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Posted @ Monday, October 10, 2011 10:32 PM by usa adidas predator absolion
Tone and intent are everything when it comes to asking why. For instance, the manager asking a clerk why they showed a customer an item, may use the answer to improve training or expand their own viewpoint, etc. While we are often defensive when asked a "why" question, it's probably worth asking in such case "What am I defending and why?"
Posted @ Tuesday, October 11, 2011 6:55 PM by David Chilstrom
David - Yes tone and intent are important. But simply using the word "why" is an emotional trigger to defensiveness. When you are struggling with defensive emotions, you are not really able to think clearly. Maybe later you can understand the why of your defensiveness. 
The point is that you are more likely to get an answer to your questions when it is re-phrased without using that trigger word:'why".
Posted @ Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:29 AM by Linda Varone
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