Avoid “Why?”

Seth Godin writes Why ask why? and calls “Why?”  “the most important question”. I think Seth Godin is an insightful marketer and I love reading anything by him, but on this I disagree.

“Why?” is quicksand. The word has inertia built-in to it; it lacks its own forward momentum. It focuses attention on the problem; focus too long and the goal is forgotten altogether. Yes, it creates context, but context can become a mental perimeter, restricting solutions.

“Why?” is a comfortable refuge for those stuck, unwilling to take the difficult steps to move out of the present situation and in to a solution. Those stuck often volunteer an answer to the unasked “Why?” as a defense against the solution. “I do x because y”, and y will surely sound really convincing. Once defensiveness starts, everyone’s mental energy is diverted.

If you have difficulty “owning their anger”, you can use “why?” as a covert accusation. “Why did you do that (dumb) thing?” is used passive aggressively to disguise anger as inquiry, to blame the accused for the presence of the upset and to position the accuser as a victim.

Don’t ask “why?” if you know someone in the room has a vested interest in the status quo. That stuck person may try to enroll the rest of the group.

You likely already know “why”, so better to skip it and just ask “What next?”.

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