“Why” is the new black.
I keep saying this, in trainings mostly, and what it means is that–what lies at the core of most problems, disputes, disagreements, frustrations, and “differences of opinion” in the workplace—is the inability of adults to ask other adults the question “Why?”
The reasons for not engaging in this way are numerous, but the largest on is that supervisors, managers, and even fellow employees, have been trained subtly through the power of social proofing and liking—along with groupthink— to believe that asking “why” as a way to explore motivations (either intrinsic or extrinsic) is the province better-trained, more highly compensated “others” higher up the hierarchical ladder.
Supervisors, managers, and employees also want the reassurance that if they ask exploratory questions in a Socratic manner, that such questioning will lead to resolution in their favor and against the other party. This is, of course, an unknowable outcome, and so it’s just easier to avoid the whole thing and adopt a “Do as I say because I told you to” position. One that leans on authority and extrinsic motivators.
Unfortunately, (or if you are a person of courage, fortunately) the Industrial Revolution is over. The era of supervisors, managers, and leaders merely leaning on authority to get widgets made faster and cheaper has passed as well. And the era of calling everyone’s bluff is now upon us.
Increasingly, people are returning to the idea (that was rampant in the world before the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to the masses) that labor has to matter. Jobs, work, and labor are all discretely different and we have spent 150 years muddling the boundaries. But, in a 21st century where more and more people who would have been tagged as merely “employees” are asking “Why?” to get to the meaning and mattering behind widget based tasks, the boundaries are only going to become sharper.
For supervisors, managers, and employees struggling within the transition from the brave, old, familiar world to the brave, new, unfamiliar world, getting rid of the desire for reassurance, developing patience, and exploring motivation Socratically by asking “Why?” is the only way forward.
Otherwise, a lot of middle management in a lot of organizations will be hollowed out and replaced, because performing emotional labor will become secondary in value to the immediate revenues that lower paid, more compliant people, algorithms, or robotics can provide.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com