At an in-person Christian Coaches Network International conference years ago, I heard a coaching demonstration that changed how I coach from that day forward. An experienced coach worked with a volunteer “client” and masterfully deepened the client’s awareness. He listened carefully, helped the client sort through details, and at one point asked the client, “What did that represent?”
“What did that represent?”
Sounded like a brilliant question to me and I didn’t know exactly why.
After the demonstration, I asked this master coach about this one powerful question. “Why did you ask that question?” And he told me that his mentor coach had challenged him on avoiding “why” questions.
Oh wow! Big shift in my thinking, as the value of this suddenly clicked for me.

Alternatives to Your Why? Questions

“Why” implies judgement. Alternative questions can elicit answers free from judgement. For example:

Why Question: Why did you do that?
Alternative: What was your thinking behind that?

Why Question: Why is that important to you?
Alternative: What makes that important to you?

Why Question: Why did you choose that?
Alternative: What contributed to making that choice?

Right then, I made a commitment to eliminating “why” questions from my conversations – both professionally and personally. For example, as a parent I can personally attest to the value of asking a teenager an alternative to “why did you do that?” There is a much better chance of getting a real answer that opens up a helpful conversation with “what was your thinking behind that?”
As coaches we engage in conversations that that bring awareness and growth and are free of judgement. Stepping away from the “why” questions and asking alternatives inspires conversations that are foundational to powerful coaching.
I’m challenging you to avoid why questions and choose alternatives. Will you accept the challenge? Let me know how it goes!

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