Why People Don’t Do What You Want

Who hasn’t ever asked “Why don’t they do what I want?”  Because you ask  this question  rhetorically, you are sure you already know the answers and you don’t like any of them.  There is another less stressful, more useful way to get real answers.

This “Why don’t they” question doesn’t spill from your brain with neutral affect.  Usually frustration and oftentimes anger will add emotional “bite” to the utterance.  To move beyond this point you’ll need to accept that your frustration is trying to tell you something, and therefore, you should spend time clarifying the real question underneath the rhetorical one.  In addition, untreated frustration can be physically unhealthy. You should learn ways to diminish its effects while gaining clarity about the issue you want answers for.

Please understand that I’m not advocating some coping mechanism because such things work like cheap antacids: temporary or no relief.  Since I’m not an M.D, I can’t make recommendations for stronger medicine.  However, I can and have coached leaders to thoughtfully take a time-out, and if it happens to be during a Northland winter, go far away to a warm and beautiful part of the world.  Even if that’s possible for you, it won’t bring you the resolution you seek.  Time-out is at best temporary relief and the causes of frustration will be awaiting your return.

Here’s an approach my LMI colleagues and I use that moves people away from the frustration and confusion and towards a solving of the issue.  We’ve made up some answers to the “Why people don’t do what you want” question, and our answers can be turned into problem-solving intelligence that is useful to both planning and goal setting.

Our Favorite Five Answers to “Why don’t they do what you want” are:

  • They don’t know what they’re supposed to do.
  • They don’t know how to do what they’re supposed to do.
  • They don’t want to do what they’re supposed to do.
  • They can’t do what they’re supposed to do.   And…
  • The organization blocks them from doing what they’re supposed to do.


A succinct meaning of each answer might be:

  • Unclear communication
  • Lack of training
  • No motivation
  • Personality barrier
  • Lack of organizational goals


The full and true meaning, however, is for you to determine with their help.  Of course the answers and meanings to why people don’t do what you want usually come with a combination of some or all of the above.  But the reality is this: Now you would be ready to have a conversation instead of a confrontation with them!  That conversation should allow you to replace the non-question, “Whose fault is it?” with the true question, “How do we fix it?”


Placid Water


The advantage for you is that you can move on to making clear exactly what you want (and when) and they can lay out the action steps necessary to get it done in a timely fashion, with high quality and no mistakes.  You might even call it a “win-win agreement.”

This entry was posted in Communicating, Motivation, Productivity by Allen Raffetto. Bookmark the permalink.
Allen Raffetto

About Allen Raffetto

Allen M. Raffetto, Ph.D., the group’s founder, brings together psychology and business for clients throughout North America. He has worked extensively with companies in the Midwest since 1983. Dr. Raffetto holds degrees in psychology from Stanford University (B.A.), San Francisco State University (M.A.) and the University of North Dakota, (Ph.D.). His specialized area, cognitive psychology, includes studies of human learning, memory, perception and information processing. He was a member of the faculty and Chairman of the Psychology Department at Beloit College from 1969 to 1984. During those years Dr. Raffetto also held research appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied the reading process, and at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he participated in an on-going study of how medical education transforms bright students into practicing physicians.

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