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.

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

  1. The person may not know the motivation.
  2. He or she 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, rather than take responsibility.
  5. There is no beneficial effect in asking, as it only satisfies curiosity.
  6. It takes the focus away from changing behavior.
  7. It too often implies that knowing the motive is necessary to change behavior.
  8. Knowing why has little to do with creating new neural connections to change behavior.

Asking someone “why” will not produce 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 desire simply because THEY WANT TO DO IT. This requires the skill of asking reflective questions.

Reflective Questions Work

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

  • “What are you trying to do?”
  • “Are you willing to try something different?”
  • “What would you do if you could not fail?”
  • “How can we approach this problem differently?”
  • “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. However, the person who asks the question controls the conversation. So let reflective questions guide your inquiry from now on.

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


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