You ask a person to do something, and they respond, “Why?” We give a reasonable response only to be confronted with a further, “Why is that important?” Our explanation is met with a further variation of “why”. At this point the typical response is, “I’ll tell you why! Because I’m the boss and I’m telling you to do it. Case closed!”
In a case like above, “why” can be a statement of challenge. It places the respondent above the one who is making the request and is saying, “If you can give me a reasonable reason for doing it, I will afford you the pleasure of my services.”
Confrontations like the above tend to strain relationships in the family, the workplace, and areas of community service. Strategic forethought can help to mitigate the “why” response. Consider the following:
- Try to contextualize your request. How does what you are asking fit in with the overall job description of the person you are approaching? How does the request affect the responsibilities that are presently on their plate? Is the request within their skill set? How does the request fit in with the company, organization, or personal goals of the individual?
- Open the door of communication by asking “Do you have any questions or comments relative to what I am asking?
- Learn to confront resistance, not challenge it. Confronting resistance and challenging resistance are two different strategies. When you challenge resistance, you place the other person on the defensive which results in a power struggle. It establishes a peer level relationship in which wits of the two combatants go “head- to-head” in a verbal battle. Confrontation appeals to the conscience. You ask two simple questions: “Do you understand the request that I am making?” This is a “yes” or “no” question that requires a simple answer. The second question is just as simple: “Do I have a commitment from you to carry out the request?” A “no” to the first question opens the door to further explanation and instruction. A “no” to the second question calls into question the loyalty of the person.
There is another aspect of the “why?” question that needs exploring. Have you ever had someone say to you, “Why on earth did you do that?” Or perhaps it has been the exasperated interrogation of the child, “Why did you do that?” The fact is, I have asked myself that question many times and haven’t come up with an answer.
It is helpful for us to understand what is behind our “why” question. Usually, we ask “why” to:
- Determine a person’s intention. What internal values were motivating action? What was the person hoping to achieve and did the choices made enable him to achieve his objective?
- Determine the potential choices that were available. What alternatives did the decision maker have at that point of time and what would be the effect of those possibilities?
- Determine the context of the decision. Our decisions are usually made within a cultural context. The environment of our decision can have a direct bearing on the decision.
The above is valuable in understanding the internal framework of a person’s decision- making process. However, “why” is like using dynamite to break open the vault so we can extract what is inside. Let me suggest an alternative way of probing the “why” question.
To Determine Intentions:
- When you made your decision, what were the top one or two factors that influenced your choice?
- What tipped the scale in favor of the choice you made?
- Was your choice tied to a long-term goal?
- What possibilities did you eliminate in making your decision?
- If there were other options, what would have been your second-best choice”
- Would your decision fit into short term, mid-term, or long-term goals?
In the end, we need to accept that there are mysteries, perplexities and complex situations that leave our “why?” echoing like a hollow drum. The limitations of our humanity are challenged, and we need to leave our “why” in the hands of the One who knows how to put our shattered Humpty Dumpty together without there being a visible crack. In the end, we will see the beautiful tapestry He has woven with all the tangled threads of our life. Keep looking up and I’ll see you at the top.