What Is The Power Of Why?

Last Update: June 11, 2021

When and When Not to Ask: “Why?”

During my formative years, I learned to ask “why?”. We’ve all been there, stacking “why”s to the point of annoyance. Stacking “why”s until an exasperated Aunty Joan exclaimed: “Because God made it that way!”.

Asking 'what is the power of why' would not have occurred to me.

Over time I learned that asking “what” and “how” elicited more useful responses.

Eventually, in my mid-twenties, as a fledgeling manager, I realised that asking people “Why?” often got an unexpected response. When I asked people “why?” something specific had happened, they more often than not became defensive and emotional.

So I mostly stopped asking why something happened, and replaced it with questions like “what happened” and “how did it happen”.

Then came goal setting. I had set myself personal and business goals for a few years. So naturally, when I was called upon to coach or mentor people during the 1980s, clarity of goals featured large. By this time I hardly ever asked 'why'.

Why and Motivation

Over several months during late 1988, I attended a training course for budding coaches and facilitators. It was a life-shaping course for me consisting of two, intensive, three-week residential sessions with a six-week gap in between to practice what we had learned during the first session.

At some point in the second part of the course, the value of discovering someone else's motivation was explored.

A guest trainer was brought in to focus on improving communications with other people. She used attendees reasons for being on the course to demonstrate that discovering and understanding why they were there was a good 'lense' through which to communicate with them.

She suggested that understanding the other persons' 'why' and communicating in light of that knowledge leads to much more motivational conversations. This made sense to me.

However, I still had the idea in my head that more often than not 'why' wasn't a useful question to ask.

What Happened Next?

Following the course, in my work environment, I led business development workshops of many different purposes such as:

  • Project planning;
  • Departmental planning;
  • Business Process Management improvements;
  • Budgeting challenges;
  • Reorganisation challenges;
  • Productivity improvements etc.

All of the workshops created an implementation plan with commitments for the follow-up work by specific team members. I made myself available to the leaders in case they needed support. To my surprise, after about 20 workshops, unexpectedly,10 (50%) of the leaders called me in to help out. This became a big drain on my time.

In most cases, one or more team members seemed to be de-motivated. They enthusiastically contributed to the process of the workshop but lost interest after the event. That was not what they actually said: they typically used lack of time and poor leadership as excuses for procrastination.

I wondered if I could change something in the workshops to try to reduce this effect. To figure out what to change I went back to the leader of the facilitation course and asked for help.

Over an hour or so we reviewed my implementation of the facilitation process which I had adapted a little. Fortunately, she liked my changes. Then she asked if I could remember what her friend Patricia had covered when she visited as a guest trainer on the course for a couple of days.

Through a little discussion, I got the point... my workshops all started with the clarification of required outcomes... however, I had not included any exploration of why a particular outcome was desirable!

So I added an additional 30-minute step as part of clarifying required outcomes, designed to explore why the outcomes were appropriate (it often took less than 30 minutes). I also devised ways to constantly remind the team of their reasons why.

So What Is The Power Of Why?

Over the next 5 years, I facilitated 182 workshops. Only 10 more required a follow up from me. Since then I have run workshops in many different environments. All but one was successful.

The one 'failure' didn't survive more than the first morning of a planned 2-day workshop. It was a group of musicians looking to find ways to cooperate with each other for creative and commercial purposes. When it came to exploring their reasons for a set of outcomes it became clear that there were diverse reasons in the group and the differences became a showstopper for enough of them, for the rest of the workshop programme to be cancelled.

Actually, although I've called that particular workshop a failure (because it did feel like it at the time), in reality, the team successfully identified vast differences of opinion that would probably have emerged somewhat later and been much more disruptive.

So, by making one change: adding a step to identify reasons 'why', reduced the need for a follow up from me from 50% of my workshops to around 5.5%. This is why when facilitating teams or coaching individuals I always ask participants to put a little time into figuring out a genuine set of reasons for what they say they want. I ask them to record what benefits achieving their goal will get for them. I ask them to write down what they will see, hear and above all feel as a result.

In facilitating or coaching I use the 'chunking' technique to get to reasons 'why'. If learning a technique for this interests you, here is a post on the subject:

https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/richardgb/blog/how-to-find-y...

Summary

Often, 'why' questions need to be handled with care and sensitivity to avoid an emotionally disruptive response.

'What, how, when, where, who and when are far less emotive.

When it comes to exploring and understanding the desired outcomes or goals of any kind, figuring out why (or what makes) a particular outcome desirable is invaluable. Over time, referring back to 'reasons why' can make the difference between continuing towards success and giving up.

If you’d like help getting to your ‘reasons why’ take a look here:

https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/richardgb/blog/how-to-find-y...

I tend to explain my reasons for why I do many things before someone else asks. I find it smooths the way. Here at Wealthy Affiliate, “Why did you join?” is a regularly asked question. To see my reasons for being here, I invite you to take a look at my profile:

https://my.wealthyaffiliate.com/richardgb

If you have any questions, or suggestions to make, please leave a comment.

If you like this post, please click the like button below.

Thank you...

Richard

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Praxides Premium
Thanks a lot Richard, It's a great posts, I learned so much from you.
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richardgb Premium
Thank you for that feedback, Praxides. You are appreciated.
:-)
Richard
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MikeMcGinnis Premium
Great post Richard. Thankyou for sending it to me :)
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richardgb Premium
You’re wekcome Mike.
i'm glad you like it!
:-)
Richard
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Jesusfan Premium
Your post makes me think. I don't run workshops nor am I in charge of groups of people, but I think what you wrote can apply to other aspects of life as well. So thanks for sharing your knowledge!
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richardgb Premium
You’re absolutely right. Thank you for commenting.
:-)
Richard
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Christorv Premium Plus
That picture reminded me so much of star wars - as we build an empire on the world wide web the "why" forms the foundation of said world- why are we doing and writing said action or article- of which content is the king/emperor. As such it must be dealt with with great care so as to adequately reach the visitor/customer/audience.

Great post, Richard, like and commented 😎
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richardgb Premium
Thank you for reading and responding Chris. Appreciated.
:-)
Richard
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drjec Premium
Why is the main element of planning. We can have the expertise to know how but why is the reason to do. Thought provoking post. Thanks.
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richardgb Premium
I agree with you Roy. It comes first and yet many people neglect it.
:-)
Richard
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