Have you ever had the “because-I-said-so” exchange with someone? Whether you’re the person saying or hearing this line, it signals frustration and a desire to close the conversation. It makes the speaker’s authority the sole reason for compliance. That used to be enough, but not anymore. Today, young people want to dig deeper for a reason to do what is asked of them. And that’s not a bad thing.
I call Generations Y and Z collectively the Why Generation because that is the question they are always asking. They want to know the reason behind everything and they will persist in asking for it, sometimes to the point of frustrating those they are asking. But in general, it’s not their intention to frustrate or challenge and they’re not being disrespectful or insubordinate. They want to know why for a very different reason.
To understand their question why, we have to understand how people under 40 today were raised. All throughout their lives, they’ve been told that they are unique, special, and important (and they are!). Because they believe this about themselves, they also believe they have something unique, special, and important to bring to their work. They don’t want to be cogs; they want to be contributors. They’re not content to follow the status quo; they want to find a better way. And they can’t do that without a fuller understanding of the reasons behind the current procedure.
That’s why they ask why. And that’s why the “because I said so” answer is so remarkably ineffective with this generation. Not only does it stifle their spirit, it shuts down the problem-solving creativity they can bring to the organization.
A Better Answer
Sometimes “because I said so” can seem like the only way to get on with the task at hand. But there is value in a real answer beyond “because I said so.” If you’re the person being asked why, I would encourage you to see the question for what it is: a true quest for information that can help the asker produce a better result. If you want to improve the process and outcome, you and the younger-gen person are working for the same thing. Take the time to truly answer their question and welcome their contribution.
If you’re a younger-gen person and you find yourself always asking why, I’d urge you to keep asking. It’s one of the things I love about your generation. So keep questioning. Keep working hard to make the process and result better. Keep putting your unique, special, and important stamp on whatever you touch. Be sensitive to how the question might be coming across, of course, but don’t stop asking. It’s the hallmark of your generation and the reason that you will make the world a better place.