It’s okay to ask “Why ??”

My wife and I are fortunate to have two amazing kids !!  They do well in school, are active in our church and our community.  I’m proud to say that.  For those of you who have kids, or if you’ve even been a kid, you know that kids ask one question infinitely.  “Why ??!!”

It doesn’t matter if things are crystal clear and there’s no reason for this question, it happens anyway.  More often than not, I just want them to do what I say and have some faith that I am not leading them down some dark path with my request to clean their room.

Recently, I heard a presentation where the speaker pulled back my eyelids on this question that often seems so annoying.  He explained that people in the workplace ask “Why” because they’re seeking context, not to annoy.  They want to understand the reasoning for decisions.  Seems to be a great trait actually.  I actually agree with him and when I sat back to think about it, I ask “why” all the time.  So, why do I get annoyed when others do it?

I think it goes back to the feeling that we’d like people just to do what we say when we say it.  If we have to spend time explaining things, then that means we’ve lost time doing something else that “matters.”

It’s time for all of our eyelids to be pulled back in HR.  If we’re not asking why for context, and even to challenge, then we can’t expect the status quo to ever move.  Just going along with everything doesn’t show well and we shouldn’t settle and sit back.  Also, we can foster a culture where it’s not only safe for employees to ask “why,” but it’s encouraged !!

If we continue to promote that we want a learning environment that focuses on development, then we must allow people to ask “why.”  What are we afraid of if we did this?  If employees felt safe, and inquired about their work, wouldn’t there be a greater chance of an enriched workforce?  How cool would that be?

So, start a new behavior today and allow people to ask that infinite question. This time when it’s asked, answer them.  Give them context and see what happens.  I think you’ll enjoy the results !!

9 thoughts on “It’s okay to ask “Why ??””

  1. Amen Steve. Here’s to the curious, we owe them – big time!

    Oh – and well done on your excellent chilli result. If you’ve any left I’d sure love a taste 🙂

  2. Steve –

    I’m fond of saying: “There aren’t any dumb questions, just dumb people who ask questions!” That seems to get rid of the whys?

    Hope that helps-

  3. When the question of “Why?” transitions from an innocent attempt to gain knowledge or clarity to line of defense, then it becomes counter productive to ask why. I find myself explaining why I’m asking why because its usually a defensive question.

    Great thoughts

  4. Good article Steve. Good leaders should communicate more to staff about issues and reduce the “why” questions. But agree that people want context and not to annoy. If they are truly members of your team whether staff or management then they should know what is going on. Asking why enables them to do so. It also might make them a better employee.

  5. I have found that when I ask “why?” it’s often perceived as being accusatory. I’ve found better success with “can you provide some context?” or “walk me through the rationale….”

  6. First, HR people need to get comfortable with people asking them why. Why do people have to do a performance appraisal? Why does a manager have to complete some lengthy form to post a new job? Why is HR asking for a seat at the table?

    When embarking on a new project/idea/task, I have found it’s helpful to start with “why” I am doing it. Once I am clear why and other people are clear with why. Then I figure out “how” I am going to do it. Once I know how, then it’s “what’ do I need to do. Always in that order. I have “why, how, what” written on a big white bulletin board in my office.

    Lastly, why am I commenting on this post? Because I found it interesting and I would like to network more with other HR Bloggers.

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