Why? Not no

Published on 
3 min, 413 words

Categories: life

One of my favourite podcasts is Hanselminutes by Scott Hanselman. I have been listening to it probably longer than any other podcast. He recently interviewed Roberta Arcoverde from Stack Overflow. She talked about how the architecture of the Stack Overflow site is very different from most other large sites in that it is a self hosted monolithic application.

The most interesting part of the interview for me was not the technical discussion but when she explained that they had considered other options and how they dealt with that. The approach they have is to not immediately dismiss something by saying "no" but to instead ask "why?" This leads to a discussion about why they should consider the other option and to further research into what is involved. In a lot of cases this still eventually leads to a no but there is detailed reasoning behind that decision. Sometimes it leads to avenues being pursued that would have otherwise been previously dismissed.

Bringing this into real life, my son wanted to buy some relatively expensive trainers. I had previously dismissed this with an immediate no however I decided to go back and ask him why. This led to a discussion about his reasons for wanting them including him actually reconsidering if they were the right ones as he would have to look after them. It eventually led to us buying them with him splitting the cost and investing in looking after them.

In the book "Build" by Tony Faddell gives another example where why can be used instead of no. He talks about how to deal with passionate leaders who in a "hurricane" of requests ask you to do things:

So here’s how to deal with people like me, how to talk down a hurricane: ask why. It’s the responsibility of a passionate person—especially a leader—to describe their decision and make sure you can see it through their eyes. If they can tell you why they’re so passionate about something, then you can piece together their thought process and either jump on board or point out potential issues.

Fadell, Tony. Build (p. 69).

So next time you have the immediate reaction to say "no" to something maybe take that step back and consider if asking "why" may be a better option.


Engineering Stack Overflow with Roberta Arcoverde

Build by Tony Fadell