Question asking in the workplace LO21800

John Gunkler (
Tue, 1 Jun 1999 11:55:28 -0500

Replying to LO21765 --

Okay, I've heard enough negative reaction to my suggestion to ask "Why?"
to tell me that I need to clarify a little.

There are, of course, not only many contexts in which to ask, "Why?" but
also many manners (tone of voice, etc.) of doing so. I'm quite sensitive
to what can happen if one does it poorly.

But my point was intended to be a simple one (hence the simple form of my
original post.) If one asks "Why?" in the sense of "What does it get us
when we do that?" or "What purpose does it serve us to do that?" or "What
does it accomplish for us when we do that?" the answers will tend to go
one level higher in the hierarchy of abstraction, one level closer to

I believe it can be very useful to know what the underlying assumptions,
beliefs, and values are for what people do and say. And asking "Why?" (as
neutrally as possible, without putting someone on the spot nor asking them
to justify themselves) is a good way to get at these useful bits of

I have also found it fascinating that, in this context (i.e., the context
of "level of discourse"), "How?" acts as the opposite to, or inverse of,
"Why?" -- taking the level of discourse lower in the hierarchy of
abstraction, a step closer to actions that can be seen, heard, felt. This
isn't something that was intuitively obvious to me when I learned it.


"John Gunkler" <>

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