When and How to use Why, or, How to Replace it with a What
Exactly a year ago, I wrote “STOP AT WHY: HOW GREAT COACHES INSPIRE SELF TRANSFORMATION,” and I left the question “When and How to use Why or How to replace it with a What?”
So, just to recap;
- When you use “why” you hit the rock bottom of your client’s beliefs.
- When you use “why” you challenge their deep set values.
- When you use “why” you enter the zone of their conscious and unconscious programs.
- When you use “why” you, often, challenge their personal charades or “rackets” as some schools of thoughts like to call it.
- When you use “why” you are, often, throwing them into an arena where they can get defensive.
Of course all these do not count if you have acquired massive and loving trust where the client is open and feels absolutely safe with you or, if the client is high on self-consciousness and open to being coached.
Now to work into the ability of how to replace “why” with a less edgy, less sharp “what” or a “how.”
Let’s take a very simple example of “Why are you late?”
You’d get a response of “because I…yadi, yadi, ya!” Or, worse, you may get “What’s it to you?”
Now try replacing “Why are you late?” with…
“Traffic on the streets?” This will give you a yes or a no. If you get a “yes” you get labelled as “understanding” and he/she relaxes, smiles and unwinds. If you get a “no” then the fact that you gave him/her an option out will be followed with the real reasons that made him/her come late.
Now, let’s take a much complex and a serious example of “Why are you always late?”
This one is bound to push all the red buttons and he/she can give you hell in return. So be cautious and replace “Why are you always late?” with something that gets you the answers you need without cornering your client and, often, empowering them a bit. Here are the options;
- You have been late often recently, what are the reasons?
- What has been making you come late these last few days?
- Any ideas on how you can make it on time for these meetings?
- And, a supportive one, anyway we can help you come on time?
You get the drift?
As a coach and a business leader, or even a supportive parent, it takes time an effort to refrain from using “why” carelessly and by default. It takes deeper mental effort and time to think through your query and reframe it in such a manner that it draws no blood, so to say.
Beyond just taking effort and time, it also requires a long-term dedication to changing the way you communicate and lead others. It takes practice, and it takes patience, and it takes powerful intention to coach and empower others benignly.
Using “How” and “What” instead of a “Why” is like shaving with the grain rather than against it. It converts relationship friction into traction. So spend a little time every time to flip your “Why” into a “How” or a “What,” it’ll do you and your relationships a ton of good.
Those are my ideas on why not to ask why often.
Article inspired by my book, the HeART of the CLOSE, which contains a section on sales coaching. Further work on Appreciative Inquiry is taken up in my workshops on Appreciative Leadership.
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