Why “Why?” Can Trip You Up

Do you want to close the door before you’re ready?

As a woman, one of our great strengths is understanding and the need to understand as well as our desire for detail.  What I’ve come to realise is that for women, understanding the power and effect of the word ‘Why’ is key in helping us get the information we want and keeping the connections open with people.  Really, why?

Well, it does two things very quickly, immediately in fact.  Two things you want to avoid.

  • One, it sends people straight to the word “because” which is where they start to justify their actions/decisions and
  • Two, it closes down the information-gathering process in the request for “the reason”.
Let me explain.

As Big Bird from Sesame Street tells us “Questions are a great way of finding things out” and questions are crucial to us digging deeper, connecting with people, understanding what’s going on.

The trick about “why” as the start of your question is the effect it has on us and, more importantly, the effect it has on those we ask the question to.

When children are growing up (and yes, we probably did it too) it’s seen as quite cute when they ask “why?” and then you answer and then they ask “why?” again and again and, often again.  As you answer them you’ll probably say “because” and “because” etc until eventually “because I say so”.

Day to day, we’re constantly asking questions (well I hope you are, based on Big Bird’s philosophy!) to find out what’s happening, what progress there is on things, how people are, where things are etc.

Notice the difference in this situation.  Imagine I was with you and asked you what you’re up to this weekend?  You tell me “oh, I’m off shopping with friends and then on to the cinema” for example.   Then I say “Oh, why are you going to the cinema?”  You’ll say, “because XYZ film’s out and I want to see it”.  It’s an innocent enough question with, in this case, no further agenda.  And yet, you’ve justified to me “why” you’re going to the cinema.  Because…. and then you’ve gone inside and thought about the reason you decided to go to the cinema.

If I ask you the same question and when you tell me you’re off to the cinema with friends I say to you “aah, what are you going to see?”  or “who are you going with” are much less on-the-spot questions.  They seek information not justification and when we justify ourselves we’re on the defensive, we’re explaining the reasons rather than giving information, however innocent the scenario.  It’s also quite irritating to have to explain why – and here’s why.  Because we have to take a position and the question implies some judgment behind it.

Now this is the powerful bit.  Take this scenario to the workplace, or to a home life discussion about something that has some emotion attached to it, “Why did you do that?”, “Why haven’t you done that?” “Why are you going there?” and you’re immediately putting the other person on their back foot, defending their decision or their position.  That’s the moment when you close the door on more information, often before you’re ready.

It’s one of the many small words that make a BIG difference in our day-to-day conversations and directly affect the reactions and responses we get.  Working with a Board of Directors recently discussing this very word, they all had an “aha” moment and something useful and simple to take and use straight away.  The trick is we don’t know until we know, do we?

Try it out with someone as an experiment and get his or her feedback from the experience.  They’ll tell you why they prefer one question to the other, because you’ve asked for a bit more information rather than put them “on guard”.

As a woman in business, building and leveraging relationships is key to our success.  The more open and connected you can keep people, the more open to supporting, sponsoring and helping you succeed they’ll be.

Oh, and by the way, this principle works just as well at home with our partners and friends and, with those trickiest of customers, your children!

AND if you’d like a Gift Chapter from Kay’s #1 best-selling book The A to Z of Being Understood, here you go: http://www.wayforwardsolutions.com/questions/

It’s iStock_000014114248XSmall and is all about the best types of questions to ask, how to use them to build relationships and your confidence and when to use open and closed questions and why!

About the author

Kay White is our Show Up & Sparkle blogger. Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert for Ambitious Women in Business, Kay shows professional women how to attract promotion, recognition and rewards at work without feeling they have to ’sell their soul. Kay shows her clients, who are corporate career women at all different stages of their careers, how to naturally attract more income and opportunity all while being true to themselves. Combining strategic moves with influencing skills plus compelling and assertive language and powerful mindsets, Kay draws on her own 20+ years corporate career in the very male-dominated world of London insurance broking. She started at 18 as a Secretary and left as a Director to start her own business. Hosting an annual 3-day Event for corporate women “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” Kay encourages and shows women how to be the best, most valuable version of themselves. Kay is author of the Number 1 Best-Seller “The A to Z of Being Understood” and you can connect and find out more from Kay at : www.kaywhite.com.

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