The Importance of Explaining WHY

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Dr Ellen Langer, Harvard Psychology Professor, did an interesting experiment using lineups of students waiting to make photocopies in the Harvard University library.

In round one of the experiment, she had one of her graduate students go up to the front of the line and ask, “Can I get in front of you to make photocopies?”

The “yes” rate was 44%.

In round two of the experiment, the person asked, “Can I get in front of you to make photocopies because my professor will fail me?”

The “yes” rate shot all the way up to 98%.

Perhaps most intriguing was round three where the student asked, “May I get in front of you to make copies because I need to make photocopies?”

The “yes” rate stayed at 94%.

When you think of the question children ask their parents most often, it is “Why?” And those children grow up to work for you and they still want to know why. What are the reasons leaders don’t give reasons?

You might not know the reason or you might think they don’t deserve a reason or you might think you don’t have time to explain the reason. You’ll find that taking the time to explain why will create greater buy in and commitment.

Here are three tips to explain why to your team:

#1 Find out why

You might find that your manager focuses mostly on whether you’ve hit your numbers and therefore, might ask or tell you to do something without explaining why.

If it’s obvious to you what the reasons are, you can simply pass along those reasons to your team or you can ask your manager to explain the reasons for certain decisions so you can present them to your team.

#2 Take the time to explain why

Even though it does take a few extra seconds to explain why, you’ll find that it saves you time not having to nag or chase after your team members to get their work done. Invest the time to explain the reasons in the background for the tasks that you give your team.

You can even do your own experiment. Give a reason to one team number and don’t give it to another and see the difference it makes.

#3 Respect your team members by explaining why

Thinking that your team members don’t deserve a reason is disrespectful.

Keeping your team in the loop with communication and taking the time to explain the rationale for certain decisions will create a stronger sense of teamwork and build trust and respect. You’ll enjoy greater cooperation and commitment from your team by taking the time to explain why.

As your team becomes more self sufficient and independent, it could free up some of your time to continue to work on your leadership effectiveness.

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