What is your first response when someone asks, “Why did you do (or not do) ________________?
Do you defend your actions or pull away from the person? Most of us do.
When I have asked a why question, many times the response has come from a defensive perspective. For example, I asked my son why his math assignment was not completed. His immediate response was a scowl and defensive attitude as he stated he was working on his science homework. My son’s demeanor changed due to the “why” question I asked him. As a coach, I immediately realized I should have asked a more appropriate question that encouraged open communication such as “What caused you not to have your math assignment completed by now?” By eliminating “why” in the question, my son would not have perceived me as being judgmental and would have openly shared his reasons for his science homework taking so long, which caused a delay in his math homework. As a result, the lines of communication would have been open for additional understanding, problem-solving, and future actions.
I recently attended an ICF chapter meeting and the speaker presented on powerful questions. The speaker emphasized the impact of “why” questions. As I learned in coaching school and through personal experiences, the speaker reinforced that “why” questions come from judgment, promote defensiveness, create separation, and focus on explaining rationale. “Why” questions simply do not contribute to effective conversations.
Effective communication leads to growth, progress, and partnerships. Reframing “why” questions into “what,” “how,” or “when” questions leads to open and productive communication. It is important to be aware of the impact of “why” questions, which can move a conversation backward creating separation.
Pay attention how often you start with a “why” question and the impact it makes.