NEVER ask a WHY-question — why should you?

In many coaching schools or leadership courses you learn NEVER to ask why questions. They lead to:

  • Assigning blame
  • Asking for justification
  • Deepening the discussion of the problem
  • Getting a team stuck

Here is an example:

  • A: “I don’t like presenting, I am always super nervous?”
  • B: “But why are your nervous?”
  • A: “When I was in school and it was show-and-tell, my classmates always made fun of me.”
  • B: “Why did they make fun of you?”
  • A: “Because I never had anything interesting to show.”
  • B: “Why was that?”
  • A: “Because I think my mother only cared for my older brother, never me.”
  • B: “Why that?”
  • A: “I don’t know… I think I am deeply traumatized…”

Tada – from a simple problem: “How to present more comfortably” – we have thought ourselves into a corner that will be difficult to leave. Bad for the client, good for the coaches’ or therapist’s pocket book.

In schools for mechanical engineering or other technical domains the “why”-question gets a much better rap. There is the technique of 5 whys which invites to get to the root cause of a technical problem. Technical problems have the advantage that they happen in a much more constrained system then the complex system of human relations. In “complicated” systems, you can meaningfully discern cause and effect:

  • A: My bicycle does not work
  • B: Why?
  • A: When I am cycling, I get this “bump, bump, bump” noise.
  • B: Why?
  • A: I think my tire is flat
  • B: Why?
  • A: I biked through some broken glass

Learning: fix the tire, don’t cycle through broken glass

But ARE there good “why”-questions in leadership and coaching? I was discussing this with a “Coaching-Fundamentals” group and we did come up with some really good examples:

  • A: I would love to be able to delegate better?
  • B: Why?
  • A: My team would be much happier and I would have less to do.
  • B: Why is that good?
  • A: I think my work / life balance would be so much better…

Some “why”-questions ask for “your good reasons” or your motivation to do things. They are actually more “what-for” questions than “why”-questions. Inviting people to think about what makes their projects valuable is a really good direction for coaches and leaders to take 😊


If you want to know why you might join one of our next coaching meetups and exchanges:

  • You will have fun with your colleagues
  • You will meet great people across continents
  • You can bring your questions and get interesting perspectives

Registration is here:

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