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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Nydick

Avoid Starting With Why

Why? Oops, I just did it, LOL. Seriously, there is a “why.”

It is often best to replace why with “how” or “what.” By asking “how” or “what,” the perception of the question changes to wanting to know more, instead of triggering a need to defend.

Consider these questions, and imagine the situation in which they are being asked?

> Why haven’t you completed your project?

> Why did you do it like that?

> Why haven’t you submitted that late report yet?

As you probably can guess, the “why” in addition to the probable tone of voice infers blame, putting the recipient on the defensive. Try changing the questions to:

> What has been working well?

> How can I support you?

> What are the challenges?

The second set of questions sound like invitations to provide information and to have a conversation. The communication will be more informative and collaborative.

Of course, you may be thinking that “why” elicits deep thought such as our purpose in life. Or the incessant “whys” a child asks for every response to a question or statement. However, there are way more situations where “why” will trigger a defense mechanism to avoid blame. When your words and tone invite a dialogue, then the result will likely be better communication.

For future situations when you hear yourself starting to ask “why,” consider the circumstance and determine if it might be more helpful to change that “why” to “how” or “what.”



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