Why are you doing that?

August 5th, 2014

It seems a perfectly straightforward way to explore something new, after all, most of us need the context and reasons behind actions to understand them properly. However, there’s something about the question “Why?” that seems to provoke responses we aren’t always expecting. What? When? How? Where? are all okay and help to explore the topic under discussion. What is about the Why that often seems negative?

There are a number of factors I’ve experienced.

  1. It starts at 2 … that age when children get really inquisitive and capable enough to articulate a question; they also soon learn that  there’s always a response to such a question, so they’ll nearly always get an answer. They might not understand the answer or have lost interest in the topic, they just want some attention.
  2. It can often sound accusatory. When someone doesn’t agree with actions, a context can help; yet if they don’t agree, the question is likely to sound negative when they ask it. It also seems easy to keep repeating the question until you are satisfied with the answer.
  3. When it comes to questions, particularly at work, often the “Why” has been lost over time, or through the cascading of information through an organisation, in order to just get whatever it is done.

If you find others react to “Why?” with a somewhat negative tone and maybe a “Well, why not?” or something else fairly negative, use a different question such as:

  • “How come?”or
  • “Can you give me some background information?”

How else have you modified your questioning style, to deal with others?

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