The duality of WHY

If you’re a leader, perhaps you have heard that asking your employees questions that start with “Why?” should be avoided. The assumption here is, questions that start with “why” puts folks on the defensive. Leadership isn’t about forcing people into that position but instead about relating to and understanding them.

Putting aside whether or not we should use “why” questions, the fact remains that we are often put in the position to respond to them. Consider for yourself how you handle them.

In my life, I have most often been embarrassed when having to respond to these questions. “Merri, why did you get such a low grade?” or “Why did you laugh at your brother?” I don’t know about you, but for me, answering these questions incriminates me on more than one level.

First, responding to Why questions forces me to speak to the facts of the matter, and second it compels me to share my feelings, especially when it moves me into a defensive nature. Neither of which, in these two circumstances would make me look good.

(I got a low grade because I didn’t study and am now very embarrassed that you know. I laughed at my brother because I saw him make a mistake and was glad he did!)

Responding to Why questions can pull out our emotions, yet not always will this be an embarrassment for us. It can, instead, allow us to show our conviction, our belief in our message.

As adults we have many opportunities to show our convictions:

  • with relationships – what leads us to be around specific individuals, especially when we spend lots of time with them
  • with big purchases – what motivates the choice?
  • with difficult decision-making – saying no, saying yes, etc.
  • with selling – how is this a good solution for the client’s issue?
  • with leadership – what makes us worthy, what makes others worthy and what does it take to motivate others?
  • and also with our own self-management – how we spend our time, our money, etc.

To demonstrate our convictions we must conclude 2 things.

What is our answer and how do we feel about it.

Unless we are prepared to show our convictions, first we try to come up with the right answer while sharing the wrong feeling – generally, confusion or anger that we are put in this spot. These negative feelings come out naturally with our need to get the right answer while being put on the spotUnfortunately, it gives the wrong impression.

Conclude that your emotion can work for you

If we were prepared to give an accounting for what is important to us, instead of thinking we did something wrong (why we do what we do), we could share our truth with ease, using the feelings that motivate our action. For instance, in my youth I would have been much more convincing responding to why my math grade was so low by saying I got carried away with my English assignment and spent all night reading the novel we were assigned. Or explaining that when my brother fell off his bike, I laughed because it reminded me of when I fell off mine and now he knows how I felt.

Conviction is nothing if it doesn’t show our true feelings. Feelings demonstrate energy, urgency and importance. Those of us who try to avoid showing feelings have difficulty demonstrating belief, let alone selling ideas. The way to influence is with expression.

Conclude that you can find truth

When we try to suppress our feelings, we suppress truth. And when we allow our feelings to surface, we not only connect authentically, we open our minds to clearer thinking.

So in the cases like those above, show your convictions. Speak your truth and do so with authentic expression. You will discover not only the duality of why, but also the power of addressing it.



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On April 21st, 2014, posted in: behavior, communication skills, conviction by