The downside of asking Why

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Anthony Pica
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The downside of asking Why

The downside of asking Why

Throughout my life I've been trained to ask why.

I've been taught to ask why an employee wants to execute a different tactic. I've learned to ask why a client needs their project delivered next month.

I'm being curious. I'm coming from a "seek to understand" angle.

The problem is, asking why can trigger defensiveness.

It dates back to childhood, when our personalities are developing...

Imagine playing ball in the house as a 2 year old, and you break a vase. You get scolded and you're asked "why did you do that?!?".

You feel accused. Threatened.

This feeling stayed with us and influenced our psychology.

To avoid triggering this negative, defensive emotion in other people, try asking WHY less, and ask WHAT and HOW more:

  • Instead of "why do you want to execute that tactic" you can say "how did you come up with the idea for that tactic?"
  • Instead of "why do you need the project delivered next month" you can say "what makes it necessary to have the project completed next week?"

It's a simple adjustment, but changing WHY to WHAT or HOW can remove the childlike sting of accusation and enable better collaboration.

Think of this next time you're trying to influence someone, whether it's your kid or colleague.

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