“I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.” (Rudyard Kipling)
I’ve long known about the 5WH questioning technique – asking questions that begin with the words what, why, when, where, who and how. You really can use it in so many situations to help make sense of what’s around you. From analysing a text, to project planning, to a multitude of decision-making you might have to do in a work situation.
Yet for coaching, the “Why” question is often one advised against. Why? Because it can appear over-provocative or accusatory … and I imagine we’ve all been on the receiving end of a bad why? question and can remember what it felt like.
But to be honest, I find complete avoidance of the why? question a little ridiculous. Experience tells me that there are ways to use the word why to good effect without the person you’re questioning closing down or feeling threatened. Here are a few ideas . . .
- Precede it with the word, “and” – always a gentle softener/introduction to an important question, eg and why might that be?, and why do you think that is?
- Ask why questions to establish facts
- Use why to dig a little deeper – why do you think that?
- Use the word why to focus on the positive – why did that make you feel so good?, why did that work?, why do you think you managed to achieve all that?
When used with the right tone, a why? question can be powerful and entirely appropriate.