Why Managers should never ask “Why?”

Many managers, supervisors and employees will tell you they are great communicators, you will often see “communication skills” on a persons CV as part of their personal profile and/or skills section.

To be a “great communicator” you will first need to understand the power of “words” and “questions,” you will find many articles on this blog that will help you improve your communication skill’s, to understand language patterns and influencing techniques,  today you will learn about the importance of the question “Why”                                   

Why you should never ask “why?”                             

 Why is the why question so important? This is a good question and this article will explain all you need to know, first I would like to add that in some circumstances the “why” question can be very powerful, but today we look at the reasons, why Mangers should not use the “why” question with employees.

Why, oh Why, oh Why                                                       

Have you ever been asked “why didn’t you meet your targets?” “why is your team under-performing?” “why is that customer storming out?” when asked a Why question, is your first reaction is to feel Accused?

When asked a Why question, you will feel accused and automatically reply in a defensive way and as a manger you now know that your employees will also respond to why questions in the same way.

Why do people respond this way? You may ask a why question not meaning to accuse the employee, just wanting to understand more about the “subject.”As the why question automatically starts a defensive response, your employees will answer trying to justify their actions, often as the employee feels angry and defensive, they will unconsciously show these negative feelings as they communicate to you.

Many mangers will respond to this negative response (remember in many cases the manager was not originally accusing anyone of anything) with their own negative response to the employee “I don’t want to hear excuses..” this can go backwards and forwards, getting quickly out of hand, de-motivating your workforce.

Why Consistency?                                                        

I recently read a scientific book on persuasions skills; the book explained how people like to be consistent. As a manger finds themselves in the battle of the why question, trying to breakdown the reason the employee“didn’t meet their targets” “team is under-performing” “customer is storming out?” the employee will want to stay consistent with their first negative response and will often bring the conversation (or argument) back to this subject.

 Why do you do the things you do?                                  

We do a thousands task each day, why do you do them? The truth is we don’t always have a reason for everything we do; often people work an automatic pilot.

When you ask an employee “why” they did something, they often won’t know why, as their automatic pilot was in play. An employee when asked why will look for an answer and may not be able to find it, in some cases the employee’s subconscious will create a reason, why they might have done what they did.

Why the Cause, why not the solution?                                      

When asked a question the mind will look for answers, when asked why? The mind will look for the cause not the solution

  • “I never get any support”                                          
  • “The targets are not realistic”                                    
  • “The customer was never interested from the beginning”          

What if you could use questions that change your employees mind from looking for the cause to look for the solution? Would this help you and your team to communicate in a more productive way? Would a solution focused question help you move forward? Would looking at solutions instead of problems, put your employee in a more productive and positive mood?

Let’s re-look at the original Why questions – how could you re-word these question to direct your employees mind to be more focused on the solutions?

  • “Why didn’t you meet your targets?”
  • “Why is your team under-performing?”
  • “Why is that customer storming out?”

I agree in some cases the “problem” needs to be addressed, but as a manager would you prefer to be able to communicate with your employees in a way that motivates them to achieve your outcome? In this way you can look at the problem as an area of development.

  • “What can you do different next week to help you achieve your targets?”
  • “How can you manage your team differently to ensure they perform well?”
  • “If you could re-wind the tape, and handle the situation with the customer differently, what would you do to ensure the customer left with a smile?”

As you can see by re-wording the Why question you can gain a better response from the employee, we all work better when our emotions are in a positive place. With the second question, I have added a presumption, “how can you mange your team differently..” the mind will automatically presume you can manage your team differently. Compare this to an alternative question “can you manage your team differently?” Now you have a choice and you may choose to say “no” – you can already start to understand the power of words, how can you use this new knowledge to improve your Management Skills.

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