Why, oh, why?

The Problem with
“Why” Questions

One of the most common questions people ask others is “why?”

Why did you do that?”

Why did you say that?”

Why is this happening?”

Interestingly, the least effective question to ask in almost any situation is a “Why?” question.

Following are few reasons that I do not ask “why?” questions to a person—especially during times of conflict or irresponsible behavior:

  1. The person may not know the motivation.
  2. The person may not be able to articulate the motivation.
  3. The person may not want to tell you the real reason.
  4. The person may give an excuse instead of taking responsibility.
  5. It takes the focus away from changing irresponsible behavior.
  6. It infers that knowing the motivation is necessary to change the behavior.
  7. It has little to do with creating new neural connections to change behavior.

Asking someone "why?" will not prompt change. Always remember that you can control other people, but you cannot change them. People change themselves. The key is motivating people to WANT to do what YOU want them to do because THEY WANT TO DO IT. This requires the skill of asking reflective questions.

Reflective Questions Work

Reflective questions are the key to better relationships, less stress, and greater understanding. Here are some reflective questions that work much better than “why” questions.

“What are you trying to do?”

“Are you willing to try something different if it will help you?”

“What would you do if you could not fail?”

“What can you do to accomplish that?”

“What can I do to help?”

Like learning any skill, asking reflective questions versus “why” questions takes practice. Her is the key to remember: The person who asks the question controls the conversation. So let reflective questions guide your inquiries from now on.

Tip: Reflective questions can be life-changing—both for you and the other person.

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Dr. Marvin Marshall

PO Box 11
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

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