Don’t Ask Why

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Last Updated on November 20, 2023 by Bill Truby

Want to know what happened? Don’t ask why.

“Why?” you ask? I’ll tell you – but just this once.

If you want to know the truth about why something happened, don’t use the word “why” to find out. If you do, it triggers the other person’s brain to answer in a way that clouds the truth.

Most of the time in our past, when we heard the word “why?” it triggered mixed emotions and mixed answers in our brains. At the core of the interaction, the person asking “why?” didn’t really want the answer. Instead, it was a veiled attempt to attack YOU. The tone gave it away…

“Why didn’t you clean your room, Johnny?” asked an angry parent, when they really didn’t want to know “why” – they just wanted to discipline you. A teacher would ask, “Why didn’t you get your homework done?” when they were more interested in having you DO our homework than really understanding the reason why you didn’t get it done. Even a boss could ask, “Why wasn’t that report done on time?” when all they wanted was the report, not the reason for it being late.

Throughout time, we also learned what didn’t work. We learned that answering the question often didn’t help our situation. An honest answer to our parent, “I was playing with my toys so didn’t clean my room,” usually got us into more trouble. “My dog ate the homework,” answered the question and protected us, but only fueled the teacher’s anger. “You didn’t give me enough time to get the report done,” counterattacked the boss, but didn’t do us any good. We subtly learned how certain answers got us into more trouble.

We learned that word, “Why?” is like a hand grenade. There’s no way to win when it’s lobbed into a conversation. The word asks one thing (focusing on the situation), the tone or the situation asks another (what makes YOU such a problem and so irritating). Which did we learn to answer? Both! We learned to defend our SELF while attempting to answer the “why” part of the question. As our heart rate jumped and sweat began to form, we got better at crafting an answer that would protect ourselves while giving rationalizing, justifying reasons for the violation. It became a conditioned response.

Now, there is something you can do if you want to know what happened. If you are the “why-er” in an interaction, stop using the word. Without the word, there is no conditioned response.

Psychologically speaking, when a person hears the word, “why,” it triggers a parent-child, rationalizing, defensive mindset. Simply changing the question, even if your tone stays the same (which I wouldn’t recommend) actually triggers ANOTHER place in the listener’s brain. No conditioned response. The person’s mind will go a place of truth and more likely give you an answer that is more legitimate.

You can replace the word “why” with words like, “What prevented…” or, “How is it that…” even, “Tell me more about….” These types of words are far more useful in getting an answer you can more specifically respond to. A parent can ask, “Johnny, what prevented you from cleaning your room? You said you would.” A teacher can ask, “How is it that your homework didn’t get done?” And a boss can say, “Tell me the reason the report wasn’t finished on time.” All of those questions trigger a better place in the listener’s mind. They don’t evoke a conditioned response of mixed emotions; so, the listener will be more apt to give you an honest answer.

What have you learned?

Take “why” out of your vocabulary and you will start getting the real truth of the matter. Notice how you feel differently when you hear the question asked “What prevented you from being here on time?” compared to “WHY ARE YOU LATE?”

Do you get it? If not, WHY DON’T YOU!?!?

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Bill Truby

Founder and President of Truby Achievements