To why or not to why, that is the question

Very early on in our coaching training we are warned to stay away from asking out clients “why?”

Why did you do that?

Why didn’t you do what you said you would?

The reason being is that this type of questioning normally results in the client having to justify themselves and can put them in a defensive stance. This frame of mind is the type of situation we find ourselves in, often as children but not exclusively, when we are asked to explain something.

Immediately your defences go up and your brain goes into overdrive to come up with a reason, whether it is strictly honest doesn’t matter. Making sure that you “save face” by providing a valid reason, for your actions or inactions, seems to take an unreasonable priority. Basically you end up saying what you think is the right thing to say instead of what really matters, the truth.

It’s completely automatic and without some time to stop, consider and re-evaluate, it’s really hard not to snap into that defensive mode. So we, as coaches, like to avoid putting our clients into a defensive mode by avoiding the “Why?” question.

However, sometimes that is exactly what you want someone to do when they are in need of some kind of motivational affirmation.

For example:-

Why is it important for you to change your job?

Why will losing weight be good for you?

Why do you want to achieve this goal?

This time the why question is reaffirming the positive intention or motivation behind an action. It gives people the chance to remind themselves the reasons they are giving themselves this extra bit of work to do.

Asking why for a justification will put up barriers and cause the person to become defensive and clam up. Asking why as a way to discover motivational reasoning will encourage the person to look a little deeper and discover what is really important to them.

So next time you find yourself posing the question “Why….?” take a moment to check whether you are asking for justification or motivational reasoning, as you will get significantly different results.