Destructive Power of “Why”

Behold… the Destructive Power of Why!

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Saint Paul

Yesterday we discussed how we can increase support and investment in our ideas and plans.

Check it out if you haven’t seen it:

https://www.persuasionreadinglist.com/building-with-the-power-of-why/

Today we’re looking at the destructive power of the word Why:

Questioning someone’s intelligence!

When you ask someone why they did something, it comes across as an attack on their reasons… their judgment… their very person!

Ego Investment is a common human feeling that our identity and self is defined though our actions.

Readers of PRL might understand that our actions are often situational, and not entirely under our control.

People that consider themselves Good People… might still do some pretty bad things (like the experiment where normal people like you and me were pressured into giving “high-voltage shocks” to actors screaming in pain!)

And Good People might quickly judge others to be Bad if the limited information “known” painted that picture… which might not be true at all!

When you ask someone why they did something —especially something that has a poor outcome—it can easily come across as accusatory.

If people feel attacked (remember, actions are equated with the person), they tend to justify themselves. They will find reasons to support their behavior, and be uninterested in your constructive criticism.

The book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) covers this idea extensively. (Check out the PRL write up here.) People will justify themselves —and dislike you, by the way— if you try to ask Why about their behavior or question their choices.

Dale Carnegie’s rules for influence start with,

Do not criticize, condemn, or complain.

Doing so gets you nowhere helpful.

If you’re interested in making progress, you have to remove the ego from the situation. And that means the other people cannot feel attacked by your questions to if you wonder why they behaved the way they did.

Focus on the current situation and how to best solve the existing problems from this point forward.

Keep your focus,

Jeffrey

10 Things You’ll Learn from “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Tavris & Aronson

“Why do you hate so-and-so, so much?” And he had answered them, with his shameless impudence, “I’ll tell you. He has done me no harm. But I played him a dirty trick, and ever since I have hated him.”

–Dostoyevsky, “The Brothers Karamazov”

Can you justify such behavior? Image from Steve Martin's movie "The Jerk", 1979
Cat Juggling! Can you justify such behavior? Image from Steve Martin’s movie “The Jerk”, 1979

The human brain is excellent at keeping itself free of blame. We have a self-image that we’re a good person, and we also do things that harm others. The cognitive dissonance this causes can be uncomfortable… until we rewrite our memories or justify our actions. Continue reading “10 Things You’ll Learn from “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Tavris & Aronson”