Transforming Why To What

Often, when we are feeling stuck and frustrated, we ask ourselves or our colleagues “why” questions: Why is it so hard? Why am I uncomfortable? Why can’t we seem to…? Why is there so much resistance to…? Why don’t I want to…? Why isn’t anybody…?

But much of the time, the why questions don’t seem to get us anywhere. We find ourselves still bogged down, still feeling stuck in the problems without much clarity about how to solve them.

There is a good reason for that. “Why” questions tend to move us into resistance, rather than out of it. They ask us to explain or justify our feelings or actions, rather than inviting us to look for creative solutions.

It is far more effective to ask “What” questions if you want to move forward.

  • “Why is it so hard?” becomes “What about it is hard?”
  • “Why am I/are we uncomfortable?” becomes “What is it about this that makes me/us uncomfortable?”
  • “Why can’t we seem to?” becomes “What is in the way of our…”
  • “Why is there so much resistance to…” becomes “What is it that we are resisting?”
  • “Why don’t we/I want to…” becomes “What is it that we/I don’t want?”

“What” questions are much easier to answer. They tend to move us out of judgment and into curiosity, and to provide more concrete information for us to work with as we look for creative solutions.

Once you have done the most direct translation, look for more “what” questions that will illuminate the challenge you are facing. For example, if the first answer feels self-evident, or like a dead end (i.e. you answer “what is hard about this?” with “it’s scary”) ask a “what” question about that answer (“what is scary about it?”) and see where that leads you.

Powerful Questions

Here are a few powerful “what” questions to try out when you feel stuck:

  • What do I/we want?
  • What am I/are we resisting?
  • What do I/we want to say yes to? No to?
  • What am I/are we assuming?
  • What am I/are we compromising?
  • What would make it easy?
  • What am I/are we tolerating?
  • What does my body know?
  • What do I/we want to let go of?
  • What would make it fun?

Stay curious, see where these questions lead you.

What Else?

One of the most powerful questions we can ask is “what else?.” When we invite our minds to give us information by asking a “what” question, our minds will generally start by offering us the answers they know best. These are sometimes just what we need, but they can also be quite limited. Try asking “what else?” and continuing to ask it until you completely run out of possible responses — let yourself be wildly impractical at this stage; this is where the creativity comes from. Later you can go back and decide what you want to act on.

Try this out in a meeting. I suspect you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get to the heart of what needs action.

Want More?

This tool comes from my “Tools for Getting Unstuck” workshop. For information on that and other workshops and training modules, or on facilitation and coaching services, contact me.

Click here to download a pdf of this page.

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