Why ask Why?

WhyI have been noticing how often the question, “Why” is asked when things don’t work out the way we expect. Like when our kids have some behavior that we don’t feel is appropriate such as punching another kid. The first question asked is, “Why did you do that?” In a business setting, I have been the one asking this simple question when the sales manager’s commitment for revenue was not achieved after reassuring me that “it was in the bank!” I could go on and on with examples.

I was wondering about this today and realized that the question
Why” isn’t very useful. In the case of kids, for the most part they don’t understand why they hit the other kid. Probably they are more afraid of the question “why” than they are of the consequence you are likely to give them. One of our early learned behaviors is making up an answer to this question. Remember when you mom or dad or teacher asked you why you did something. I do. Then when the didn’t like the answer I gave such as, “I don’t know” they would say something like, “sure you do, now tell me!”.

This situation carries over into all aspects of our adult lives. A spouse may ask you why you didn’t take out the garbage or some more serious question. You co-workers may ask, “why were you late with that project?”. You manager may ask, “why didn’t you meet my expectations for the quarterly goal?”. In most cases, our conditioned responses will be a story that we hope will satisfy them and not spend any time on finding the real answer to the question “why“.

consequenceSo I am proposing abandoning the question. That’s right just don’t ask “why” again. It will take some getting used to, I am a skilled practitioner of using this question. Instead, I am going to ask a few different questions. Such as, “I notice that what I expected isn’t what you delivered. what can you do now to meet my expectations. (I have a hunch they may not quite know how to handle the question in that it is so simple and not what they are used to). With the kids (we have four at home), I think I will use a derivative of this question, like,” you didn’t do what you said so let’s talk about the consequence for that.”

I am curious what you might think about this approach to the question “why“. I would love to hear your comments.

Until later,


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Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

1 thought on “Why ask Why?”

  1. Interesting observation. Another reason for not being able to explain nor revealing the truths to ‘why a person is doing / did so’ is probably due to fear of further consequences to their answer.

    I noticed that my grandfather never asked his grandson ‘why’ if he did something wrong like hitting his sibling with something. Instead, he would explain to the boy the negative outcome of his behavior. Teaching by elaborating logical reasoning and treating the young boy like another adult. I think explaining and teaching works better rather than asking why or punishing a person.

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