When life presents you with a situation, some confusion or anxiety, the question that often comes up is WHY…

As a therapist and life coach I can tell you: it is not the right question for a number of reasons.

Let me explain.

Your child has been expelled: WHY?
You friend is dismissive: WHY?
Your partner wants to become your ex: WHY?

It seems the logical question but finding an answer to this question stops you in your thinking process.

It is a dead-end question with a dead-end answer.

The answer will not change anything.

If you are looking for an answer that creates a better understanding, it makes sense to ask a different question.

Let’s go through the examples.

Your child is expelled. WHY?

Because he stole. Stealing is wrong, so you get punished.

How would the perception of events be if you were to ask: ‘What happened?’

“Well, my friends were teasing me and took my pencil-case, then I got fed up and was upset, but found a pencil-case in the playground and took it, because I didn’t think anyone would notice. The teacher asked me where I got that case and then the girl started crying, pointed at me and said: ‘He took my pencil-case……….”

He took someone else’s pencil-case.

But inviting him to explain what happened is showing an interest in what went on and gives you an opportunity to understand the situation.

Your friend is dismissive. WHY?

If you go through the options, you will have tons of assumptions to work through:

  • Maybe embarrassed, because….
  • Maybe upset, because….
  • Maybe jealous, because….
  • Maybe tired, because….
  • If you ask her WHY, she will give an explanation, any of the above or another one and that will be it.

What would happen if the question you asked her: ‘I notice you are not your usual self. Is something the matter?’

Through asking an open, non-directive question you give her an opportunity to share with you what is going on.

Your partner wants to end the relationship. WHY?

Because he/she comes up with ‘this or that and the other’.

Is that a clarifying answer?

How about the question: what could have prevented this decision?

Then the other person has an opportunity to explain and give more insights instead of just giving a dead-end answer.

WHY is aggressive, directive and demanding. No room for anything but the right answer.
Questions that invite more elaboration and contemplation show interest, empathy and a willingness to listen.
If you want to deepen your understanding of situations, don’t use WHY questions anymore.
Now you know WHY!

It is so important to ask the right questions, if you want to get helpful answers.