“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” - Pablo Picasso, Metamorphoses of the Human Form
“Why did you do that?” must be one of the worse questions to ask. I realized some time ago that I was using it too often. With my friends, with my colleagues, with my family. And it wasn’t the best way to engage any conversation with them, because it put them in a defensive position.
Situation #1: Someone does something, for which I think there are better ways.
A few years ago, I was in one of the rare Japanese restaurant to open on a Sunday evening. I didn’t have Japanese food for a long time, the menu was quite rich, and so I took my time to make up my mind. After I ordered, the waitress came back to tell me that they didn’t have what I wanted, so I chose something else. After this second order, she came back again to say that she didn’t have that either. So I ordered something else, only to find out 2 minutes later that she didn’t have that either. Finally she said that she only had a few items of the menu left and listed out the options for me.
I got a bit mad at her, saying “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place instead of making me choose 3 times?”. She called her manager, and I started to argue with her that they had no sense of customer service.
Looking back it would have been better to simply say: “Such a shame, if you had told me before the only options you had left, you wouldn’t have had to climb the stairs 3 times to get my order”.
Situation #2: Someone doesn’t do as I expect them to.
Like every Saturday we go to lunch at my parents with the kids. So around 11:30, I told my husband that we should go, and started to help my kids to get ready. After 15 minutes, the kids were ready, but not my husband. He told me he wanted to finish posting something on Facebook. I got upset and asked “Why are you on Facebook? Why couldn’t you get ready first?” Then we argued. Lovely saturday.
It would have been much better to say: “The kids are ready to go, it’s getting hot, how about you finish your Facebook post at my parents?”
Situation #3: Someone does something that I think is completely wrong.
My 4 years old daughter is very creative. One afternoon, I found that she had taken and emptied a small jar full of grains that my mum had given us, so that we could try and grow a variety of herbs not found Vietnam. I was of course pretty mad at her when I found out, and started to reprimand her: “Why did you empty the jar? Now we lost all the grains granny gave us!”
In fact I knew exactly why she did it. She wanted to have the little jar to play with her dolls. It would have been better to say: “I know you like this little jar a lot and want to have it for your dolls. Next time you want something, just ask me and I help you to get it”.
Most of us don’t necessarily know why we do something. So asking why doesn’t really help. But all of us will appreciate different point of views and possibilities that disrupt our way of thinking and doing. They help us grow instead of making us feel bad because we did the wrong thing.
So here’s the mental note I now try to stick to: keep the why question to myself, and start the conversation with the answers that I get by myself from that question. Doing so, I’m sure that the conversation starts from the other’s person point of view.