Question asking in the workplace LO21812

Tony Padgett (
Thu, 03 Jun 1999 09:28:32 +0900

Replying to LO21796 --

Let me just add something. wrote:

> Replying to LO21760 --
> Tony wrote:
> >...have to be careful in how I ask questions with the word "why"
> >since it can easily be misunderstood as assigning blame. "Why did
> >you write this sentence this way?" will imply that something is
> >wrong with the writer or how he wrote the sentence. Just
> >to be safe, I like to try to substitute other words for "why" ...
> >For example, it might sound a tad unnatural, but I might ask
> >the same question as "Just so I can understand your viewpoint, how
> >did you go about coming up with this sentence?"... And of course,
> >the correct tone, facial expression, etc. can change the meaning of
> >why as well.
> We have had a good deal of discussion around the use of the word 'why' to
> introduce questions. In our workshops on systems thinking, for example,
> we -insist- on using a triggering question beginning with 'why' because we
> have as our goal 'understanding the system' and 'why it produces this
> problematic behavior.' And asking 'why' has delivered the best results.

Definitely. If you have an environment where everyone knows that you are
trying to get at the root cause in order to improve and not to blame, the
people you are asking "why" to will take the message as constructive. If
this environment doesn't exist fully, then asking why may imply blame. So,
in other words, in addition to the non-verbal communcation that goes along
with asking "why", the environment in which you ask it can shape it's
meaning of either "understanding the system" or "finding blame". If in
doubt, I try to avoid "why".

And I do appreciate and aggree your additional comments on the focus of


Tony Padgett <>

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