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When I ask “why?” I sometimes get a dismissive reaction as if I asked why because I simply do not know or I am ignorant of the process. How do I phrase the “Why?” so that we can get to a root cause analysis?

What can help a great deal is before launching into asking why, saying something to preface your “why” question, can help people respond appropriately. It could be something like, “In the spirit of working through the causal chain can we ask why? Do we know why the process is the way it is?” This can help set the context behind why you are asking why, and it can help a great deal.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.