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.

Look at these examples of its use and what may be heard or read by the recipient or listener:

“Why did you ask us to do this?”
What they hear: “What’s the point of your stupid request? “
“Why did you decide to do this way?”
What they hear: “Your way is dumb.”
“Why do you need to get involved in this?”
What they hear: “Back off!”

What to ask instead:

Here are some alternative options:

  1. What’s behind this decision?
  2. How did this decision come about?
  3. What’s the basis for this?
  4. What triggered that?
  5. What’s the rationale behind that?
  6. What are you looking to achieve?
  7. 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:

  1. seeking the reasoning behind a decision, especially in email or IM;
  2. asking a prospect why they’re approaching you, and why now;
  3. curious to have a leader’s feedback on a career decision such as a promotion;
  4. enquiring about an action that someone in your team has taken;
  5. trying to understand a course of action undertaken by a friend.


Your Action Step:

  1. Take a quick note or snapshot of the alternatives.
  2. Use them in your next interaction, whether it’s email, IM, ‘phone or face to face.
  3. Repeat…

It’ll soon become easier to think of the alternatives in a flash.


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Image by Chen from PixabayPexels

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