Beginning at an early age, the thirst for knowledge triggers our inquisitive nature. Why is the sky blue? Why is the earth round? Our desire to understand why things are the way they are does not stop after our childhood years. As Laura Berman Fortgang explains, as we get older, we still use “why” to bring our circumstances into alignment with our ability to understand our world.
The primary goal of asking why is to identify the underlying cause of a problem or issue. In the research arena, various methods are utilized to discover insights necessary to inform effective decisions. According to Naomi Henderson, President of RIVA Market Research and RIVA Moderating Training Institute, learning how to ask better questions and expanding your vocabulary of questioning beyond “why” can effectively elicit the responses you need. In short, we need to know why, without asking why.
While asking why may give you the answer you are looking for, the potential for an adverse reaction is still prevalent. Why questions:
- Put respondents on the defensive
- Push for short, concise answers
- Incite additional follow-up questions
- Elicit negative emotions or reactions
- Focus on the past
Instead of focusing on the “why”, formulate questions around what. What questions will open the door to future-oriented conversation. To successfully implement this change, you need to change the focus of your thinking. . . Redirecting your focus from the cause of the problem or situation to focusing on a solution allows to you delve into the what, how, who, when, and where.
Once you understand that why is not nearly as important as what, you are closer to your goal of gaining the insight you set out to find. Eliminating the act of asking why is an effective tool that can be utilized in all facets of your daily life, not just in a professional setting.
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