“Why?” a Tool or a Weapon

There has been a lot of discussion around the power of the question “Why?” lately.  I’m not sure why, (no pun intended), but maybe it’s because of the new book  Start with Why and the TED video by Simon Sinek, but “Why?” seems to be showing up a lot lately.

Generally I agree with the power of why, for so many reasons.  I’ve written about the importance of “why” in selling here a lot.

As someone who uses “why” a lot, I  love it as a tool.  It allows me or others to get to the root of things.  It allows for magic to happen as more information and motives are brought to the surface. Using “why” as a tool is a tremendous asset in solving problems, growing businesses, working on relationships and more.  However, unfortunatley, overtime I’ve come to learn that “why” has a dark-side.  A side that allows it to be used as a weapon to destroy.

When “why” is used as a weapon it is used to make people justify their decisions, their position, or their idea.   In these cases “why” isn’t being used to grow, it’s being used to thwart.  When being used as a weapon, the answers only hold value to the extent they can be used to tear down an idea, a person or a movement.  There is no good seeking when “why” is being used as a weapon.  Good answers are dismissed, bad answers are lept upon and exploited.   When used as a weapon “why” is purposely embraced to put others on the defensive and to drive an agenda.

This is unfortunate, as the unintended consequence (or maybe intended, but I just don’t like to think people are really that negative) is that people stop responding well to the question “why?”  When why is used as a weapon, people begin to become hardened to questions and inquisitive behavior.  When asked, “Why did you do that, or why do think that way, or why should we do this?” they become instantly defensive, fearing an ambush.  Internally they challenge the motives of the person asking the questions, they go into defense mode and in some cases come out swinging.   When this happens all is lost, and even a well intentioned “why” has become a weapon.

I see this a lot in disfuntional organizations; non-profits, big companies, little companies, HOA boards and even families.  When “why” is used as a weapon disfunction exists or is not far behind.  When this happens, it is very difficult to recover.   Communication is stunted, lines are drawn, and collaboration ceases.

“Why?” is a great tool.  It is the tool of functional, high performing organizations and relationships.   “Why?” is also a weapon.  It is the weapon of dysfunctional, poorly performing organizations and relationships.  It tears apart good ideas, brings down well intentioned people and stunts progress.

Learning to use “why” as a tool is valuable. Learning to stomp out the use of “why”  as a weapon is equally important.   Why is good and bad, it’s just how you choose to use it.  I guess it’s kind of like the force.  There is a good side and the dark side; avoid the sithe.

How are you using “why?”  As a tool or as a weapon?


Grammar help –  I was not sure how to represent the “why” in this post.  I didn’t know if parenthesis was correct or not.  If any of you are grammar experts and can help me  understand how “why” should have been represented grammatically correct in this post, I’d appreciate it.

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