Avoid this word when asking questions
“Why did you do that?”
Seems a bit harsh a question?
When we read, we tend to lay our own intonation on to the words. As a result, it’s easy to make what you think is a ‘neutral-sounding’ word or phrase into one laden with inference.
For that reason, ‘why’ can create a defensive response, especially in written communication where there’s no non-verbal language to show that you’re genuinely curious and open to someone else’s reasoning.
What to ask instead
Here are some alternative options:
- What’s behind this decision?
- How did this decision come about?
- What’s the basis for this?
- What triggered that?
- What’s the rationale behind that?
- What are you looking to achieve?
- What are the outcomes you want to see?
Using these other question forms will increase the quality and amount of information that others share with you.
When to use the alternatives
Some of the many contexts in which you can use these alternatives included, when you’re:
- seeking the reasoning behind a decision, especially in email or IM;
- asking a prospect why they’re approaching you, and why now;
- curious to have a leader’s feedback on a career decision such as a promotion;
- enquiring about an action that someone in your team has taken;
- trying to understand a course of action undertaken by a friend.
Your Action Step
- Take a quick note or snapshot of the alternatives.
- Use them in your next interaction, whether it’s email, IM, ‘phone or face to face.
It’ll soon become easier to think of the alternatives in a flash.