People Skills: Why Aren’t You? Why Not? #peopleskills

People Skills: Sidestep the Why Aren’t You Trap!

As The People Skills Coach™, I often coach and teach about phrases that make or break leadership, employee engagement, teamwork, and customer service.

Why Aren’t You …

is one such troublesome phrase.

Words matter — regardless of intentions — so we must always choose wisely.

People Skills: Image is a preacher.

People Skills: Why Aren’t You? Why Not? Image via

Why aren’t you and its cousin, why not, project …

a presumptuous, arrogant, patronizing, sometimes dictatorial tone.

This can turn into a people skills disaster. The negative words suggest to others that we question their logic and good sense. It communicates that we expect them to justify or defend what they are doing. Even with positive intentions, why aren’t you, reflects disapproval or even a bit of disdain.

When are we likely to fall into this trap?

  1. In our excitement and zeal to share our ideas for success
  2. As leaders when we push for results vs engaging for success
  3. On teams, in our fear that others’ actions will cause us to fail
  4. In the frustration of dealing with rigid stubborn behaviors
  5. In our comfort zone of believing our way is the best way
  6. For some, needing to feel that they are in control of others

Great people skills can prevent each of these traps.

  • Sense others’ needs before imposing ours.
  • Own and communicate our own fears so they don’t paralyze others.
  • Realize that change is happening and we can’t stop it. Embrace others’ journey to learn from it.
  • Remember that trying to control other adults can drive them away. Ultimately it creates rebellion (the opposite of control) not obedience.


Why not do what I think is best? Why aren’t you doing it my way?

Examples of Trouble
In social media networking, “Have you written a book?” No. “Why not?”

In building association membership, “Are you a member?” No. “Why not?”

In coaching, “Have you considered … ” No. “Why not?”

In teamwork, “Why not try …?”

In leading, “Why aren’t you …?”

People Skills – Winning Alternatives

  1. Ask to understand instead of preaching to instruct.

    “What’s working for you?” builds trust and relationships. “Why aren’t you” builds walls and resentment.

  2. Be positive, not negative.

    “What options do we have?” explores new ideas whereas “Why aren’t you?” declares a right and wrong.
    “What if?” breeds discussion while “why not try?” breeds defensiveness.

Professional and personal relationships are slowly built and quickly broken. Even ONE phrase can make a big difference! Our emotional intelligence and people skills guide us to success.

What great questions have you used in professional relationships to lead, serve, collaborate, and succeed?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Image licensed from

Related Posts:
People Skills: Replace These 5 Emotionally Triggered Statements
People Skills: Keys to Initiating Instead of Dominating
The Perfect Apology and the ONE Word That Destroys It

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results. Kate invites you to also connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter. She welcomes your interaction!

4 Responses to “People Skills: Why Aren’t You? Why Not? #peopleskills”

  1. Karin Hurt says:

    Great thoughts. Sometimes these why not phrases are well intended… as you point out “why haven’t you written a book,” is really a compliment… it implies you would be good at that. I do love your examples of alternative phrasing… one of my favorites, “what’s next for you?”

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Karin,
      Very interesting that you see the “why haven’t you” as a compliment. It can be and yet many people take offense — they see it as a push from others to live up to expectations. We can clear up all confusion by stating the compliment “I would love to read a book of yours..” or “I hope you write a book. You’d be great at it.” It turns the push into praise.

      Thanks for adding to this discussion! 🙂

  2. What an excellent tip! Words should be chosen carefully- the Proverbs describe words as having the power of life and death.

    One tip I picked up from an old colleague was not to use the word “but” when responding to someone. Instead of saying, “That’ great, but…” he recommended using, “That’s great, and…” It changes the whole feel of the comment that follows.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Mary. It’s quite true. The word “but” telegraphs disagreement before the person hears the content. It can stop listening.

      Great addition to this discussion.

      Warmest thanks,

KateNasser on Facebook KateNasser Blog KateNasser on Twitter KateNasser on LinkedIn KateNasser on Pinterest