Thriving Under Fire Blog

Why you shouldn't use the word "why?"

Posted by John Faisandier on Nov 28, 2018 1:24:08 PM

As I walked past an alcove at a major hardware store recently I overheard a manager addressing the assembled team of about 20 workers. In a loud accusing voice he berated one or more of the team members saying:  “Why would you do a thing like that!"


The snapshot of staff sitting there with heads down and seemingly disengaged left me feeling sad for them and for their irate manager.

While this manager imagined he was bringing discipline to his team, he was, more likely, sowing the seeds of discontent and resentment.

Discipline comes from the word ‘to teach’. His idea of discipline was to blame, humiliate and punish.

Teaching is about exploring the gaps in people’s understanding and (educating = from the Latin educare: to draw out) drawing out practical solutions and offering guidance where relevant.


There are four things that I would love that manager to know:

  1. There is never only one cause when something goes wrong, so blaming one person or group is not logical. Blaming puts everyone on edge.

  2. The word WHY when used this way is not an objective enquiry into what may have happened but rather it is an accusation. It puts people on the defensive.

  3. Instead of asking “Why did you do that?” use a phrase like “What has happened that this has gone wrong?” Make sure you are in the Adult Ego state and your tone of voice is calm and even. This is more likely to engage others to look at all the factors that have contributed to the problem at hand.

  4. When you get frustrated, deal with your own feelings first and don’t project them onto others in a meeting. Of course you get frustrated at times but these are your feelings which you need to own and deal with in an appropriate time and place.

When was the last time you asked someone "why"?

How would you rephrase that statement, knowing what you know now?

Topics: Emotional intelligence, Physical Reactions, Conflict Resolution, Listening, staying calm

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