A small question of Why?

“Why” indeed

What’s wrong with a ‘why’? We all like to know the reasons why people do what they do, say what they say, behave the way they do. ‘Why’ seems like the perfectly reasonable question for finding all that out. How else would we know? 


The trouble is

‘Why’ makes people defensive. The only suitable answer to a ‘why’ is a justificationWhat you get for an answer is not more information. What you get is a person distracted from what they were saying into thinking of reasons that you might find acceptable. ‘Why’ is for prosecution!

There is very little constructive, encouraging or forward-looking about a ‘why’. As coach I know that most ‘why’ questions will only stop and distract the client and we end up taking two steps back for the one we’ve just taken forward. So I very rarely use it, apart from when I want to understand the importance of something or encourage the client to consider beyond what they currently think is possible: “Why is that important to you?” and “Why not?” are two questions that can help increase awareness rather than put people in a corner.

If not why, then what?

Well you could try the “what”. For example, “What’s going on with you?” and “What are you going to do about it?” and “What does that mean for you?”.

Or you could try a “how”: “How will you deal with this?” and “How does it change things for you?” A “how” opens up new pathways in the brain and allows for new connections to form when your mind is looking for the answer amongst a multitude of possibilities. Life is wider than any one thing in it and ultimately everything is connected. Many of us think we can ‘sort out’ things in our lives one by one, but life doesn’t roll that way. The way it does roll is that when you make a breakthrough in one area you cannot help but see it impact other areas of your life as well. The “how” can help kick-start that process.

Go be curious

Curious people are the blessing of this world. They help others move forward by exploring what’s really going on, what else is going on, and by wondering what else and how else could things be. Only with curiosity can we create breakthroughs in what we think is possible.

As long as we stay mindful of how we express our curiosity, there is nothing wrong with asking a lot of questions! So don’t hold back, go forth and be curious!

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