Ask “What” not “Why”

Ask "What" not "Why"

As a consultant, one of my favorite questions to ask my clients is "Why?" As in, "Why are you doing that?" Asking "why" can be an effective way of determining if a process is actually doing what is expected or needed.

But I recently came across an article that referenced the book Insightby Tasha Eurich, who suggests that a better question than "why" is "what." Eurich says "why" questions elicit defensive responses while "what" questions get to the heart of what we need to know. This is something I've done instinctively for years.

For example: Often when I ask a staff person, "Why are you doing that?" the response, quite honestly and fairly, will be "Because that's what I was taught to do."

If that's the answer I get, I'll follow with "What are you trying to accomplish?" I may get a more thoughtful answer. (Sadly, often the answer will be "I don't know, that's just what I was taught to do.")

So think about how you ask your questions. And remember that "why" may not get you to the answer, but "what" very well may.

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