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I work with people who when asked "why are you doing it that way" or "why [any question]?" their response is always "why not"?

My feeling is always that this a frivolous response and indicates a poor logical basis for their actions.

I'd be grateful if you could:

  • a) Tell me if i'm justified in my thoughts ?
  • b) The best way to respond.
  • b.i) Is there a cutting/whitty retort I could use?

I'm unsure if this is posted on the correct Exchange (apologies in advance).

closed as primarily opinion-based by avazula, Ælis, Termatinator, MlleMei, Tinkeringbell May 20 at 10:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Welcome to IPS! Unfortunately, the questions you are asking right now have primarily opinion-based answers. However, you can edit your question and ask instead something like: "how can I make these people understand that I'm genuinely interested in what they are doing and want to know more?" – Ælis May 20 at 8:53
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    Hi! I cast the last vote to put this question on-hold: As you can see in our help center pages, we can't really tell you if your thoughts are justified, instead please focus your question on resolving your issue, instead of asking us if there is one. As for witty responses, they are too opinion based to be a good fit for this site. If you could clarify a clear goal, we can help you find a way of addressing this, though it's going to need more details like what these people are doing or what you've tried as a response before. – Tinkeringbell May 20 at 10:48
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I think you'll find that they are simply throwing back your lazy method of enquiry.

It's quite possible the people you are working with are feeling personally attacked when you walk around questioning what they are doing. People don't like to have themselves questioned for no given reason. Saying "Why not?" is a low-effort way to move the onus for explaining themselves back to you.

Simply asking "Why?" demands that the person being asked must now completely justify their method/opinion/etc. It makes it sound like you are disapproving of their current method/opinion (whether you are or not), but have not completely thought through your own opinion of it.

It also comes off as aggressive, as you have essentially thrown doubt upon an otherwise (in their eyes) perfectly acceptable method/opinion, and demanded a justification from them, which they may not be prepared to give, either because the explanation is long and complicated, or because they did not decide upon the method in the first place, having learnt it from someone else.

I know that I've personally been asked "Why?" by a boss who has already decided that they don't care why, and are planning to tell me to change my current methods. In that case, I was annoyed that I was demanded to explain myself, and immediately have that explanation ignored anyway.

Instead of looking for whitty retorts, you might find it more valuable to invest your time in asking constructive, non-aggressive questions. Something like "Why do you use [method 1] over [method 2]? Is it [faster/easier/more precise/etc.]?". You will find you get much more direct answers, and eliminates "Why not?" as a possible response from the start.

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It all depends on the reason for your "why".

If you are seeking enlightenment (as in "teach me Sensei"), then perhaps the tone of your questioning is misinterpreted as being finicky.

On the other hand, if you are critiquing their method, then by replying "why not?" they are engaging you. It is now your turn to justify your incredulity. This is a perfectly valid response as they are telling you: "if you want to critique my method, back it up with intelligence or "street cred".

Then there are the laid-back type who are easily satisfied and confident with their method. Arguing about minute details is pointless to them. You'll say Tom-AH-to and they'll say Tom-AY-to. Indeed, much can be learned from these "surfer at heart" types.

Ultimately, if you are their boss, you can turn it around by saying: "I want YOU to justify your method... your job depends on it".

If you're not in a position of authority, then you can always flatter them with "You method seems like pure genius and I'd love to understand it".

Flattery will get you anything.

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