Why do you…


With those three words my shoulders instantly come up to my ears.

Why do you… almost never has something wonderful follow it and almost always has something critical at its core.

Why do you always leave your towel on the floor?

Why do you never remember to put gas in the car?

Why do you come to work late?

Why do you ignore what I am saying?

Sure, on the surface, why questions seem to be seeking understanding.  But in reality, they are usually thinly veiled accusations with a dash of exasperation.

I am guilty of it.  In fact, each of those above questions are ones that have come out of my mouth in the last week.

And I should know better.  “Why do you” questions make people feel defensive. They are not designed to solve a problem but rather to challenge a choice, make the other person feel badly about an action or to force them to justify their selection.

Instead try: How might we…?

How might we find a solution for where your towel goes?

How might we find a way to remember when the car needs gas?

How might we solve the issue of you being at work at your start time?

How might we find a way to communicate so we both feel heard?

I’ll admit, I borrowed this idea from a Harvard Business Review article which describes how top companies use the “How might we” model to increase their innovation.  But it works with relationships as well.

While we often want to shift the full accountability of an issue to the person whose behavior is offending us, the truth is, so long as their behavior is offending us then we are part of the problem as well so we should seek to be part of the solution.

Additionally, if we switch “Why do/don’t you” to “How might I” we can use it to brainstorm how we might influence the situation.

“Why do my students act bored?” becomes “How might I switch things up to make them more interesting?”

“Why are my athletes scoring so low?” becomes “How might I restructure practice to make sure we are focusing on the areas where my athletes can raise their scores?”

“Why do my employees not read their emails?” becomes “How might I shape my employees time at work so they have the opportunity to focus on their emails?”

“Why do” places the blame.  “How might” looks for solutions.

How might we engage in a dialog so I might better address topics you are interested in?   Follow this blog by clicking here. Or we can connect on twitter or via email.  And, of course, comments are always welcome below!