RCT Blog


I recently met with a coaching client who expressed some dissatisfaction in the performance of one of his direct reports.  The direct report had several deliverables due, and had not made progress on any of them.  So we proceeded to talk about how that conversation could go.

I asked, “What will you say? How will you approach this conversation?” 

His response was, “Well, I’ll ask him why he hasn’t delivered.”

“Okay.  So how do you feel when someone asks you WHY you did or didn’t do something?”

“It doesn’t feel good.  It’s not necessarily threatening, but almost condescending.  I guess it gets me on the defensive.  I have to defend why I did what I did.”

Exactly.  The “why did you?” or “why didn’t you?” question often sends the message of “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???”  Can you see the implied finger pointing and hear the exasperated question?  Not a productive way to problem solve with a direct report or a peer.

There are other ways to start this conversation.  (Remember that it is also important to manage your tone of voice through this discussion).  Other options include:

  • What happened?
  • What’s going on?
  • What kept you from . . .?

Through this discussion, you ultimately are looking to find out the “why” or “why not” without using words that trigger defensiveness.  You will be more likely to have a productive conversation if you don’t start your conversation with WHY.


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