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Last week we talked about how counterproductive it is to ask ‘why’. It can put employees and clients on the defensive; trying to justify their actions instead of discussing how to change a situation.

So What DO We Ask Instead?

At work we are in the relationship business more than we want to admit. We have a cubical or office and we get our jobs done with a minimal amount of personal interaction with people thanks to technology such as email, pdfs, and electronically shared documents.

So, when we do need to personally interact with others, what helps us get to the best part of productive conversations?

Normally, it is straightforward questions, such as: ‘How did we get to this problem?’ ‘How does this matter to the end goals?’ ‘Can we solve this easily?’ ‘What’s the best next step?’

However, many of us are inclined to ask ‘why’ questions, such as, ‘Why did the problem occur?’ ‘Why did we try and solve it this way?’ ‘Why didn’t we try this?’ ‘Why isn’t it already fixed?’

The interesting thing about asking ‘why’ questions is that it puts the receiver on the defensive and delays the ability to explore better alternatives faster.

Defensive reactions shut down positive curiosity and, oftentimes, productive conversations.

Why Questions Are Much Like Accusations.

Research in negotiating, conflict resolutions, and feedback have identified where drama and negative interactions get escalated – it’s when the other person is cornered and gets defensive.

This is where using alternative questions, instead of ‘why’ questions, help defuse defensive reactions.

Instead of continuing the habit of asking ‘why?’, start practicing the use of ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. These types of questions expand the conversation and neutralize emotions faster than other types of questions.

Instead of ‘Why did you do that?’ ask ‘What were you expecting to happen with those actions?’

Instead of ‘Why don’t we do it this way?’ ask ‘How do you see us moving forward?’

There are a vast array of different ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions; don’t limit yourself! Make sure you keep asking ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions until you are moving in the right direction together.

If you notice, using What and How takes the focus off of explaining things to you, the questioner, and instead, focuses on the other person.

When this happens, conversations become more meaningful, open, and occur with less judgement. This is a simple tactic, yes.  When utilized, however, the reactions and results you get from the other person are more useful and productive.

To learn more how to identify your value at work and how to communicate it more effectively, look for upcoming workshops and learning opportunities here: www.relevant-insight.com or contact Carole directly at carole@relevant-insight.com

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