I have spoken about the use of the word “WHY” in numerous workshops on communication, in coaching sessions, and even in this oldie-but-goodie Thought Partner Friday.

The challenge with opening a question with the word WHY is that it tends to put the recipient on the defensive automatically as you’ve just asked them to defend their thinking or their decision. You may also come off as judgmental or overly interrogatory.

Even if you are well intended with your inquiry and simply searching for information, devoid of emotional attachment to their answer or their reasoning, the unfortunate part is the receiver might not receive the question with your intention. And they respond with “Because….” 

Anytime you start a thought or a sentence with BECAUSE, chances are you are in defense mode. Again, probably unintentionally so. 

So how can we keep from killing our conversations softly without why? 

Try these WHY word cousins instead –

1. What led you to this decision?
2. What can you share with me about the thoughts behind making that choice?
3. What factors influenced your thinking here?
4. How did you arrive at that conclusion?
5. Who did you brainstorm your plans with?
6. Were there specific considerations that guided your decision?
7. When have tried this in the past?

It is hard to censure yourself when curiosity is in your nature. I am a curious coach; it’s WHY I have great conversations with clients that help clarify their thinking and help them plan their next step. So I struggle with this one too. 

Ultimately we all want the best interactions we can have with one another. 

Try to do what you can to grow the conversation before you inadvertently squash it.