Why don’t we ask ‘why’ more often?

Part 2 of a 3-part series on the importance of seeking reasons

By: Andre Kotze

In the previous blog post titled “The Rarity of Reason: A Wake-Up Call for Workplace Decision Making,” the importance of seeking reasons in problem-solving and decision-making was emphasized. Despite its significance, this behavior is rarely observed in our data.


That’s the question this post attempts to answer. Why is such an important behavior so seldom used?

Run this thought experiment next time you are working in a group setting. Ask the group how important the behavior of ‘seeking reasons’ is to solving problems or decision making on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is most important. Most groups will rank Seeking Reasons in the top three, or even number one if solving a problem. Despite this, seeking reasons is the second least used behavior out of 18 AirtimeBA practitioners observe during problem-solving and decision-making.

Here are a few reasons people give when explaining why they don’t seek reasons:

Interpersonal reasons

Organizational reasons

Status “People are addicted to contributing. Many feel the need to justify their presence, while others might be egocentric, and in love with their own ideas.”

Time or timing“Understanding ‘why’ early in a process is beneficial. Asking ‘why’ at the project’s end, when no action can be taken, triggers backlash.”

Trust “Some responders can’t be trusted. They may pretend not to know or simply give fictitious reasons. Agreeing or disagreeing with these reasons doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

Internal efficiency and domain expertise “Most of my work is complex. Cross-functional teams of domain experts rely on each other to make the right calls. I don’t expect them to question my judgment, nor do I question theirs.”

Assumptions “People make too many assumptions, believing others don’t know or care about the reason. They end up with a fixed mindset and a limited understanding of the person or situation.”

Culture “It’s like dealing with antibodies. Getting people to change behavior in meetings disrupts decision-making habits. It’s so frustrating how resistant people can be to change.”

If we look at just one interpersonal reason and one organizational reason, we can get the sense that this behavior, important as it is, has the deck stacked against it.


People have a need to ‘get along and get ahead’; it’s part of our wiring as social creatures. According to Will Storr in “The Status Game,” this need for status is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. From the era of hunter-gatherers, where status could determine access to resources and mating opportunities, to the modern workplace, where it can influence career progression and social standing, the quest for status is a fundamental human drive.

Storr explains that our brains are wired to seek status because it often equates to survival. This drive manifests in various ways, including the need to contribute in meetings or justify one’s presence. People seek to elevate their status by showcasing their knowledge or ideas, sometimes regardless of the relevance to the conversation. This behavior is part of a broader strategy to be recognized and valued within their social and professional groups.

Understanding this can help explain why meetings often become platforms for individuals to assert their status rather than collaborative problem-solving sessions. This leads to an imbalanced individual contribution with collective goals, creating a less cohesive and productive environment.

Status can dampen seeking reasons because it creates power dynamics that discourage questioning and critical thinking. When status hierarchies are deeply ingrained, individuals lower in the hierarchy may feel intimidated or reluctant to challenge those above them, fearing repercussions or loss of favor. This deference to authority stifles the natural curiosity and analytical mindset necessary for seeking reasons. In essence, the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s status can overshadow the collective benefit of open inquiry and reasoned discourse, leading to an environment where critical questioning is suppressed in favor of preserving the established order.


The more stubborn aspects of Culture are often compared to an organism’s immune system, as noted in Edgar Schein’s extensive work on organizational culture. Just like antibodies resist foreign elements to protect the body, established cultural norms and habits within organizations can fiercely resist change. This analogy aligns with insights from Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit,” which emphasizes that habits, once formed, become deeply embedded in our daily routines and decision-making processes. When attempting to introduce new behaviors in meetings, these ingrained habits can act as barriers, making the change process feel like a battle against the body’s natural defenses.

Spencer Harrison’s research on organizational behavior at INSEAD further illustrates that resistance to change is not merely a function of individual reluctance but is also deeply rooted in the collective identity of the group. Organizations develop a shared sense of “how things are done around here,” which can be incredibly resilient to alteration. This shared understanding provides stability and predictability, but it can also stifle innovation and adaptability.

The problem lies in the deeply entrenched routines and collective behaviors that define an organization’s culture. These routines, while providing a sense of order and efficiency, become rigid over time, making any deviation feel disruptive and uncomfortable. The psychological comfort derived from predictable patterns contributes to a strong resistance to change. Consequently, efforts to alter these patterns often encounter significant pushback, as individuals and groups unconsciously protect their established ways of working. This resistance is not just a surface-level reluctance but is deeply embedded in the cognitive and emotional frameworks that guide group behavior. Understanding this complexity is crucial for appreciating the challenge of driving behavior change in any organization.

Culture can dampen seeking reasons because it inherently values stability and predictability over disruption and inquiry. When a culture becomes accustomed to established ways of thinking and operating, it discourages the questioning of norms and the exploration of alternative approaches. This aversion to change fosters an environment where seeking reasons is viewed as unnecessary or even threatening, thus stifling critical thinking and innovation. In essence, the very mechanisms that make culture a cohesive force also render it a formidable barrier to the curiosity and openness required for continual improvement and growth.

Sorry to leave this post with the glass half empty. The behavior, Seeking Reasons, is rare for several interpersonal and organizational reasons, which often stem from deep-seated factors. Understanding this terrain is the first step toward fostering an environment that encourages curiosity, critical thinking, and collaborative problem-solving.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, where we will explore the constructive impact of seeking reasons and practical strategies to promote this valuable behavior in the workplace.