“Why don’t you…?”

I find this kind of question unexpectedly difficult to deal with. “Why don’t you…?” isn’t the only type of question this applies to – it’s a whole set of questions that have the same effect on me. What they all have in common is a dissonance between a very specific literal meaning, and a very specific intended meaning.

With “why don’t you…?”, the dissonance is like this:

  • Literal meaning: “Please explain why you have not taken this action or why you aren’t going to take it.”
  • Intended meaning: “I am offering you a suggestion in case you haven’t considered it.”

When someone asks me a question like this, my brain glitches out because it can’t decide which meaning to respond to. One part of me knows that the person is just offering a suggestion, and all I have to do is acknowledge that suggestion with a “thank you”, or possibly a “no thanks”/”that won’t work” or similar. But another part gets caught up on the literal meaning. It’s a ‘why’ question, we have to answer ‘why’ questions with ‘because’ and explanation.

So then I freeze because I can’t find a way to reconcile those two possible ways to answer. I often begin to formulate an explanation (in response to the literal meaning), but then stop myself because the explanation will be extremely longwinded and detailed and I know that’s not what the other person wants. Then I have an attempt at responding to the intended meaning with some kind of vague acknowledgement.

Which usually results in a nonsensical conversation like this:

“Why don’t you try this suggestion?”
“Because I… no.”

4 thoughts on ““Why don’t you…?”

  1. I always ready myself for potentially ignorant advice when I hear the phrase, “Why don’t you just…” Usually what follows is a statement from the other person telling me to do something they would do in my situation or providing an idea I’ve already tried.


    1. That’s a good point, too. The only time I actually want advice is if I specifically ask for it (from a specific person or people), or if I’m somehow rendered incapable of making safe decisions for myself. So that adds another aspect to the ‘right’ way of responding to “why don’t you…?”, because there’s another part of me going “tell them you don’t want advice!”.


      1. I tend to interpret most advice as criticism — as if I should have thought of that on my own and wonder why I didn’t. I’m getting better at figuring out how to receive feedback (“No, critical voice they weren’t discussing your worth as a person – just what you did there).


  2. “I tend to interpret most advice as criticism”
    Me too. I automatically become defensive. It feels like blame. I wish I could handle this better.


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