Asking why comes in handy in many different scenarios. Whether you’re a curious person or trying to be a good friend, asking why often gets to the root of the situation. It is only important that you ask politely why!
Some polite ways to ask why are: you want to understand someone’s choices better, you’re not quite following, you want to do something to the best of your ability, you’re wondering why someone is feeling that way, or that you want to learn more.
Reasons You Might Ask Why
You Want to Learn More
Asking why is a good way to learn more about a topic. It delves beyond the superficial facts and helps you understand the full concept.
It is one of the six main questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. These questions are designed to help you understand topics and investigate their true meaning. Without knowing the answer to all of these questions, you will have an incomplete understanding of the topic.
You Want to Understand Someone’s Request
Maybe someone is asking you to do something and you don’t grasp why. It might be a request that seems unreasonable to you or something you wouldn’t normally do. Or maybe it feels unethical.
Asking someone why they want you to do something can help you clear up any misunderstandings and get to the bottom of someone’s request. Maybe it makes a lot of sense and is quite reasonable once you hear them out.
It is also a way to question the request without being rude if you word it properly. It can even make the person reconsider their request if they realize they don’t have a good reason behind it.
You Want to Understand Someone’s Emotions
Emotions can be confusing. If someone is feeling down, or perhaps upset with you, it is important to know why or else you can’t help them.
A lot of people have trouble fully expressing their emotions. They might not healthily show them or they may bottle them up, leaving you guessing.
Sometimes people don’t even know why they’re feeling a certain way. Giving them the space to talk things out can help them figure out their own emotions, while also helping you understand the process.
Sometimes people just need to talk out loud.
Asking why someone is feeling the way they are, gives an invitation for them to tell you about their emotions and shows that you care.
You’re a Curious Person
You want to know everything about everything. You want to know how things work and why they work the way they do. You want to know what makes the world tick.
When you’re a curious person, it’s not just about how something works. It’s also about why it works that way.
Getting a one-line answer just isn’t enough for you. You want to get to the bottom of everything.
You Like Philosophy
The question “Why?” is at the root of philosophy. Philosophy asks, why is the world the way it is?
If you tend to think philosophically, you will always be asking why. Why do people treat each other the way they do? Why are we here on Earth? Why do we have self-awareness?
Thinking this way gives you a new perspective on life and you will always have something to ponder over.
Situations Where You Might Ask Why
You’re in a brainstorming meeting. Everyone is throwing out ideas but no one is backing them up. People aren’t explaining their reasoning for their ideas.
Asking someone why they think their plan will work allows them to further promote their idea and will clear up a lot of questions that people may have.
It may also point out flaws in the plan, avoiding a disaster down the line.
Or maybe your boss asks you to do a task, but you don’t see the point of it. Asking them why the task is important will help you understand their reasoning. It can also help you perform the task better if you know the purpose of it.
When you’re learning something new, sometimes it just won’t click at first. You’re getting all the facts but nothing is stringing them together in your mind. It just feels like everything is jumbled up.
Asking why will help you learn. If you’re confused, chances are your classmates are confused too.
It also shows good initiative and lets the teacher know that you’re engaged and want to know more about what you’re learning.
You might ask why at school if you’re learning a new topic and want to know everything there is to know about it. Knowing why things work the way they do will help you have a better grasp of what you’re learning.
If you’d like to understand someone’s reasoning, you can ask them why they made a choice or why they feel a certain way. Sometimes people’s actions don’t make sense at first, so asking why can show that you’re interested and want to understand better.
Asking why in a conversation shows that you’re engaged and care about what’s being discussed.
As a Parent
When you’re parenting, you don’t always want to come off as strict or make assumptions about your child’s choices. Asking them why they did something can help you understand where they’re coming from and open up a conversation, rather than just yelling at them.
If you ask your child why they made a certain choice, you might be surprised by the answer. Maybe they were pressured by friends or weren’t feeling well and acted out in response.
If there is a common theme every time you ask, it will help you identify a problem that needs to be addressed.
As a Child
If your parents ask you to do something and you don’t understand the point of it, it’s a good idea to ask why. This way you won’t hold onto any resentment.
Your parents also likely have a good reason for asking you to do something. Understanding their point of view can help you mature and learn to take more responsibility for things.
It is extra important to ask politely in this situation because they are your parents.
As a Therapist
Asking your clients “why” is a great way to open up a conversation. They may not even know why they made a choice or why they’re feeling a certain way, so making them think about it can help them understand themselves better, as well as assist you in helping them.
People often just need to talk things out.
Getting to the root of the “why” is the purpose of therapy. Something might be able to be traced back to trauma or an unrecognized emotion.
Helping clients identify their “why” can help them move forward healthily.
Polite Ways to Ask Why
“I’d like to understand your choices better, can you please explain why you chose to do that?”
This phrase shows your curiosity and good intentions. You aren’t trying to be a pain- you just want to know more.
This is a good phrase to use during a conversation if it seems like someone made a bad choice. You can use this phrase as a friend, therapist, parent, or teacher. It is a way to open a dialogue about someone’s decisions instead of immediately reprimanding them for what they’ve done.
“I’m not quite following, can you please explain why?”
This is how to ask why when you’re confused. If your boss is giving you instructions, if your friend is telling a story and you’re lost, or if your teacher is giving a lesson, this is a good way to show that you want to understand but need a little help.
“I’d like to do that to the best of my ability, would you be able to tell me why?”
If someone asks you to do a task and you don’t see the point of it, this is how to ask why you have to do the task without undermining their authority. It words it so that your intentions are pure and you simply want to do your best.
It is a good way to spin your frustration so you don’t come off as defiant.
“Why do you think you’re feeling that way?”
When your friend is feeling down or if you’re a therapist, this is a good go-to phrase. Sometimes people need to think out loud to figure out the root of their emotions. Or maybe they already know why they’re feeling a certain way and just need to share.
No matter what, you are creating a safe space with this phrase.
“I want to learn more, can you explain why?”
This is a good question if you want to show initiative in class or if you’re curious about something. By telling someone that you want to learn more, it shows that you care about the topic and are intrigued.
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.