Stop asking why and start asking what

May 31, 2018

ISSN# 1545-2646

Stop asking “Why” and start asking “What”

At the core of “Promise Culture” is Purpose or the “WHY” someone or group does something.  It shapes their deliverables and the methods they use to achieve their results. If you ask someone as to “WHY” they are doing something, they tend to give a confused look and must stop and give the question a deeper level of thought.  Sometimes they craft a rather pointless response or just blurt out an answer of I don’t know why.  This happens because the question of “WHY” triggers an emotional response and most people are not comfortable in that area of communication.

At this stage of the interaction, there is a communication breakdown. What potentially started out as a purposeful question has done exactly the opposite and cause one of the parties to go on the defensive and shut down.

There is still important knowledge to be gathered in answering the question of why, but how you get to the answer is critically important to the process of arriving there. Here is where the use of the question starting with “WHAT” comes into play.

Rather than asking the question of “Why are you doing ….”  try asking the question of “What caused you to ….” The person is now one step removed from the emotional response and focused on the more behavioral aspect of the questions which they can adjust to more readily on the fly.  It gets them opening up and communicating vs. shutting down.

This small change may require you to ask a few more “WHAT” questions to get deeper into the answers you may be seeking insight to, but it will keep the dialogue moving forward.  Think of it like peeling an onion.  You need to ask a series of skin peeling questions to seek what is at each more internal level of the conversation. While keeping the open dialogue with “What” based open ended questions, your interaction can be more productive and less threatening.

This approach can be used while discussing a client or employee situation with another employee.  It can be used when interviewing new potential hires.  It can be used when interacting with clients for any number of reasons.

This week practice your interpersonal skills by using the “What” questions rather than the “Why” questions.

Having challenges using “What” type questions? Call JKL Associates at (313) 527-7945 to help you structure your “What” to get to your Purpose.

Questions or comments – email us at or call our Office at (313) 527-7945
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 Copyright – JKL Associates 2018

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