Never Ask Why

Why is a power question. Why demands that the other person rationalize their behavior or result. It is never positive. In some, maybe many cases, it will cause your client to shut down.

The most common users of “Why?” are authority figures or ones that want to be. Why did you come home late? Why did you not do your homework? Why did you strike out? Why didn’t you close that deal? Why is there no gas in the car? Why is dinner not ready?  Husbands, mothers, and teachers.

None of these questions can possibly have a useful answer. As an adult-to-adult conversation piece, “why?” should be seldom used.

A sociologist who studies and writes about deviant behavior, claims that if he goes to a bar and talks to a prostitute, the question, “Why are you a prostitute?” will get him exactly no useful information. On the other hand, “How did you come to be a prostitute?” will often get the life story. The form matters. “Why” is judgmental. “How did it come to be,” is non-judgmental and open ended.

It is the same with clients. Why did you buy that fund or that policy won’t work. You can see the client bristle. It means exactly the same thing as, “That policy is stupid, rationalize owning it.”

How did you come to own that policy will elicit some interesting answers. My favorite so far is, “Buying it was the easiest way to get rid of the salesman.” In that case, the client had nine small whole life policies issued at yearly intervals. Give the salesman marks for follow up.

Providing good financial advice that a client can and will accept is subtle and easily derailed. “Why” is a put-down and is self sabotaging. Replace it with “How did it come to be that ……”

It will work with your children, spouse, employees and others in your life just as well or better than with clients.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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