December 18, 2015

Why You = No WAY!

"Why are you always late to the weekly meeting?" 
"Why won't you help Paul?" 

How would you feel if your manager or boss asked you these questions? Well, firstly, no one would want these questions to be asked to them because they have a tone of irresponsibility. But, in addition to that, answering these questions would put us on the defensive. 

Usually questions with "why you" or "why didn't you" create defensiveness in the person receiving the question. This creates a hostile communication environment at work. Normally, these are the first questions we think to ask in English when we are upset, probably under stress and want to know reasons. These are the first kinds of questions that come to mind, but these are the last questions we should actually ask. Especially worded like this. So, what can we do? We would need to use a formula with an I statement (you is not the main subject), statement of behavior, outcome and question to get a conversation started.

For example, for the question, "Why are you always late to the weekly meeting? the manager could ask:

Instead: "I noticed that for the last three weekly meetings with client ABC you have been late. We hope that everything is going fine. We really look forward to your input as you are one of the key players on this project and put a lot of work into it. Due to that, thankfully Lori fills in for you and shares updates on your behalf. However, we'd really like you to join in on this meeting. Is there anything I or we can do help you with your schedule?" 

The second question, "Why won't you help Paul?" 

Instead: A critical bug has been reported by the client. I know it's Friday, but Paul really can use your expertise on this specific bug. Can you stop by his desk and look into it with him?" 

Or: "Paul has been facing a problem fixing the bug we discussed on the client call this morning. I think that earlier he had asked for your help. I know it's almost time to go home, but I hope that you can just stop by his desk a few minutes to help him out. Is that possible?" 

Cultural Notes: 
Keep in mind that in some parts of India, the "why you" answer rule may not apply. Native speakers may be more sensitive to the 'why you' principle than English as Second Language speakers. In fact, in Kerala, when I have delivered this in sessions (this has been delivered in sessions through activities and role plays to over 500 professionals), most do understand the tone difference, but feel that the ideal native speaker response may be taken as a suggestion by many Indians (or Keralites). In this case, a suggestion means something that would not be acted upon. This is mostly because the question part of the ideal "why you" answer would be a statement. Let's see an example from above: 

For example, for the question, "Why are you always late to the weekly meeting? the manager could ask:

Ideal "why you" replacement: "I noticed that for the last three weekly meetings with client ABC you have been late. We hope that everything is going fine. We really look forward to your input as you are one of the key players on this project and put a lot of work into it. Due to that, thankfully Lori fills in for you and shares updates on your behalf. However, we'd really like you to join in on this meeting. Is there anything I or we can do help you with your schedule?

"Why you" replacements Indians identify in most training programs: "I noticed that for the last three weekly meetings with client ABC you have been late. We hope that everything is going fine. We really look forward to your input as you are one of the key players on this project and put a lot of work into it. Due to that, thankfully Lori fills in for you and shares updates on your behalf. However, we'd really like you to join in on this meeting. I suggest that we change your schedule so that you would not have to attend XYZ meeting before the weekly client meeting. I have moved that meeting to another day.

In the suggested Indian replacement, the "subordinate" appreciates when the manager suggests a solution in the form of a statement. This would not be taken well by most Americans who would find this to be micromanaging and a directive. Americans appreciate the question that elicits conversation. Indians may appreciate the directive and less conversation which is also a time saver. The irony here is while Indians may assume most Americans prefer directness, in this case, the interaction most Americans prefer is quite indirect, while, on the other hand, the Indian may prefer a very direct interaction. 

What are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer a direct or indirect approach to getting 'negative feedback' from colleagues and management? Share your experiences in the comments section below. 

Jennifer Kumar helps India offshore teams and American onsite counterparts build effective teams through communication facilitation and consulting. Contact us for more information. 

Related Posts: 
How to say no politely 
How to be taken seriously  
A collaborative way to give feedback the other person may not want to hear 

No comments:

Post a Comment