Merge's Blog

Tell people why

I have blogged in the past about how surprised I am to see people repeatedly sabotage themselves by saying and doing things that will reduce the likelihood of others helping them.  This despite the fact that the only way to achieve substantial progress in the workplace is to count on others to help you get things done.  Last November, I wrote about one common self-sabotage: commanding or ordering people to do things, instead of asking.  Here’s another form of self-sabotage I observed recently: not telling people why – not telling them why you need what you need.  Compare these two examples.

A manager says to his assistant — “Cassie, can you have that report on my desk by 2:30 this afternoon?”

Or he says — “Cassie, can you have that report on my desk by 2:30 this afternoon.  The client’s expecting it first thing tomorrow morning, and I want to make sure I have a few moments to review it before we send it out.”

It may not seem like much, but the second version is MUCH more likely to get this manager his intended outcome.  By giving his employee the “why”, he has taken one giant step towards securing her commitment and follow-through.

Simple, huh?  So why don’t more people do this?  Do you have any insights, because it continues to constantly astound me that so many people just don’t get the power of a few simple words!



  • Not only does the “why” help to secure co-operation, it is also a key element of staff development. A why can put your employee in the position of being able to make their own decision the next time the situation comes up… cuts two ways though, because an employee who is worth their salt, knows how or when to ask “why”.

  • Richard, I agree with both your points. Telling your employee why you’re asking him/her to do something does indeed lead to staff development — it helps your employese think on their own rather than just simply carrying out orders that come from elsewhere.

    And you’re right. Good employees should be asking “why” if their managers don’t offer the information voluntarily. However, I still believe the onus is on us as leaders to offer the information without being asked.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.