Treat “Why” Like a Hot Stove

This story still stings even though it happened ten years ago.

Like most enterprise deals, Adobe was an exercise in patience.

The final litmus test was a conversation with the signer, “Bob” and his team.

Towards the end of the Bob asked, “I’d like to see your hourly rates in the agreement.”

Here’s me:

“Why do you want to see our hourly rates?”

Here’s Bob:

“Are you seriously asking me that? Of course, I want to know what you’re charging us per hour. I can’t believe you’re asking me to justify my question to you.”

The deal died that afternoon.

The lesson?

“Why” can put people on the defensive because it can sound accusatory.

Bob must have felt like I was an angry parent scolding him in front of his team.

Here are other why phrases that put people on the defensive:

“Why are you upset?”

“Why did you do that?”

Instead, substitute “why” for “what” or “how”.

“It seems like you’re upset. What’s going on?”

“How can help?”

As Christopher Voss says, “Treat why like a hot stove. Don’t touch it.”