Have you ever been asked a question that started with the word why and you had an immediate tug in your body that felt like you were being judged? Why did you say that? Why would you think that? Why are you doing that? Why? Why? Why?
Why questions have been one of my triggers in the past. How dare someone question my intention. My immediate reaction was a feeling that I was being judged. Not only have I been asked many why questions, I know I have asked many of others, whether spoken or unspoken.
Let’s look at how common these types of questions come up in our day-to-day interactions and in the different roles we play.
● Parent to Child: Why didn’t you study for that test?
● Boss to Employee: Why were you late for the meeting?
● Friend-to-Friend: Why did you choose to go there for vacation?
● Partner-to-Partner: Why don’t you want to go out for dinner?
When we ask questions like the ones above, do we invite dialogue, or do we shut down conversation? My experience is there is no productive conversation. The questioner has made an assumption about the questionee. Most often, the questionee response does not reflect what is truly going on within.
Next time you ask someone a question that starts with why, pause and reflect on what is your intention for asking that question in the first place. Are you trying to cause them distress or understand the situation? Are you trying to exert control or allowing for growth?
I was advised a long time ago, to ask questions that start with what or how instead of why. When we seek first to understand, we give people the time and space to express themselves. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but when I pause and remember that I don’t want to come from a place of judgment, it becomes easier to raise the level of conversation. How different would the above conversations be if we asked the question with an intention to understand?
● Parent to Child: What did you find difficult about the test?
● Boss to Employee: We missed your presence at the beginning of the meeting, I hope everything is ok.
● Friend-to-Friend: What did you enjoy most about your vacation?
● Partner-to-Partner: What would you like to do for dinner?
The above questions are more likely to create an environment for an honest response. An opportunity for meaningful dialogue exists.
How about starting with a dialogue with yourself? How many times a day do you ask yourself a question that starts with why? Why do I say yes when I want to say no? Why am I staying in this job? Why can’t I get it right? Why is this so hard? Why can’t I manage money? Why? Why? Why? We are often hardest on ourselves.
In working with clients, I often ask someone about their intention, their why. I love the work of Simon Sinek and his book, Start with Why. He says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This applies whether we are trying to sell a product or service in business or trying to engage in conversation like the ones above. People don’t buy what you are asking, they feel why you are asking.
My belief is that life, success, joy, prosperity, connection all flow from our intention. When we let go of our judgments, the need to be right, or the desire to be in control, we can trust in a higher intention. We can seek first to understand where someone is coming from. We can seek first to listen with an open heart. We can seek first to serve the client. We can seek first to give without expectation.
How do we begin trusting our intentions and stop judging ourselves and others. It starts with awareness and curiosity. I suggest being an observer instead of a judge holding court. Take a minute and think about how curious your mind becomes when you take a walk in nature or watch children at play.
From a place of awareness and heightened curiosity, we can pause and choose how we want to respond. From this powerful observer place we can take inspired action in alignment with a higher intention. So instead of asking yourself or others harsh WHY questions, let’s begin asking ourselves gentler WHY questions. Turn the why question into an inquiry about your intention. It is through a process of conscious attention and intention that more solutions, more connection, more opportunities, more choice, more freedom, and more prosperity flow into your life. It does all start with WHY.