Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The problem with WHY

Why?

It’s THE crucial question.

It fuels creativity.
It generates answers.
It promotes discovery.

In fact, asking, “Why?” has probably enabled more businesses, more organizations and more people to explore more ideas than any other question in the universe.

That being said, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the potential dangers of the word WHY.

Because as routinely as that word is used, it's valuable to understand the possible negative implications. Especially if you hold a managerial or leadership position.

1. WHY? … can be seen as criticism.
Especially if you use the wrong tone of voice or body language.

2. WHY? … can make people feel defensive.
Especially if it conveys judgment, not curiosity; accusations, not observations.

3. WHY? … can force someone to justify his actions.
Which can be tough, because people don’t always know why they do stuff. They just do. And sadly, they (sometimes) don’t give much thought to their motives.

4. WHY? … can be internalized as a personal attack.
This goes WAY back. See, during a child’s socialization process, he hears things like: “Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you listen to me? “Why did you disobey me?” And these feelings are ingrained in their minds forever.

5. WHY? … can be easily countered with "because."
Because I just DID! Because I just don’t understand! Because I felt like it! Because I said so! Sound familiar? Sound frustrating? See, these “because” answers, while valid, still offer very little information. Plus, they sort of leave you nowhere to go in the conversation. It’s best to avoid the possibility of “because.”

SO, THAT’S THE BIG CHALLENGE: what do you say instead of, “Why?”

I’m glad you asked.

HERE’S THE FIRST SECRET: instead of asking, “Why?” ask, “What?”

WHY … produces generalizations, rationalizations, justifications.
WHAT … uncovers information, specification and motivation.

What, not why.

HERE’S THE SECOND SECRET: use variations like "what," "how," "when," "which," "where."

They’re more objective, less defensive and enable you to depersonalize the question.

What, not why.

HERE’S THE FINAL SECRET: consider these alternative Phrases That Payses:

DON’T ASK: “Why did you…?”
DO ASK: “What was your reason for…?”

DON’T ASK: “Why would you…?”
DO ASK: “How could you have done it differently to avoid this error?”

DON’T ASK: “Why didn’t you…?”
DO ASK: “Where could you have gone to follow the proper procedure?”

DON’T ASK: “Why couldn’t you…”
DO ASK: “What, specifically, were you confused about?”

DON’T ASK: “Why weren’t you…”
DO ASK: “What factors went into your decision to…”

What, not why.

Practice using these alternatives to the often accusatory, potential dangerous “Why?” And as a result, you’ll give people permission to feel comfortable volunteering the information you need to know!

LET ME ASK YA THIS...
What do you use instead of "Why"?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
Share your Phrases That Payses here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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