Now turn that around. Have you ever asked a fellow staff member or a superior “why?” to better understand the logic behind a given instruction? Think back. Was their immediate response positive, or did you have to spend some time explaining the reasoning behind your query?
Most likely you’ve experienced a bit of both. Think back to the negative experiences that stemmed from the initial question. What if you or the other person had rephrased it slightly? What if instead the question was, “what are the expected outcomes?” I’m willing to bet you would have had a more productive conversation.
Of course, you don’t want to remove “why” from your vocabulary altogether; there are many valid uses for it. However, it is worth training yourself to rethink your word usage to avoid putting the other person on the defensive. It’s not an easy instinct to ward off, but using it less frequently will potentially transform unproductive conversations into productive ones. Personally, I’ve been trying to train myself out of the habit for years now. When I am able to rephrase the question, I receive a much more positive and responsive answer.
Interestingly, some of us have already instinctively removed this phrasing from our communications. Amanda Kaiser is a qualitative member researcher and author of the popular Smooth The Path blog. Amanda has conducted hundreds of interviews with association members. One of her primary goals in each is to make the member as comfortable as possible. Establishing a rapport with respondents results in more complete and accurate answers to follow-up questions and a better experience for each interviewee. Early on in her member research career, Amanda unconsciously started steering away from using the word “why.” Instead, she uses questions like, “Could you tell me more about that?” or “Can you tell me about what went into that decision?”
If you’re someone who needs to understand the full picture, then chances are you ask the why question fairly often. Next time, try rephrasing, and you may find you’re met with a more positive reception and, in turn, a more detailed response.