Today’s coaching and life tip: Be careful how you use the question “Why?” Why? Here goes.
Two weeks ago I was in Section 137, Row 15 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, almost enjoying the game between the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers. It was a victory for my team, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been because a football know-it-all sits right behind me, in row 16. He has sat there for many years, annoying me on-and-off, but this time he really got to me and everyone else within earshot. His negativity is stifling, and it is most often expressed when, with exasperation, he belches the word, “Why?”
“Why didn’t he tackle him?” “Why did they call that defense?” “Why didn’t he see him wide open?” “Why didn’t they challenge that call?” Why? Why? Why? (Metaphysical fan hysteria.)
Ask Better Questions
“Why?” is a wearying question, and it immediately puts respondents on the defensive, positioning them for defensiveness rather than discovery. It presupposes the superiority of the questioner. Whether from a family member, a colleague, or a superior, you don’t like it, do you? Think about it–and think about whether you lean on “why” too much.
Instead, get there in other ways. Rather than asking, “Why did you do that?” consider:
- “I wonder what’s behind that.” or
- “Help me understand how we got here.”
Take an angle that shows high support along with high challenge.
For the Record
An organizational “Why?” as a problem-solving pathway makes a lot of sense. The method of “5 Whys”, popularized by Six Sigma can really help teams probe deeply into what lies beneath organizational culture and how to improve. Done correctly, this technique puts no one on the defensive and opens corporate eyes to problems and possibilities.
Not for Individuals
But I don’t like “Why?” as a coaching question for an individual or a loved one. There are so many better ways to get there.
Just before half-time a friend of mine engaged the know-it-all in a brief conversation which resulted in the guy apologizing to her, and to me, for being so negative. He admitted he needed to “work on that”. That’s cool. We’ll see. He reduced his negativity by about 8% in the second half, but he’s still driving me nuts. Don’t ask me why.
What questions do you ask instead of “why”? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Join me for a 30 minute informal time of coaching and encouragement. Details here.