For years now, when teaching participants how to better connect with the person they are speaking with, I describe the three different types of questions you can use (closed, open, connecting) and what makes connecting more impactful.
While a closed-ended question is fact confirming (often gives you a one word answer and is great to use when you’re confirm something), an open-ended question is fact finding (gives you details about what you’ve asked), a connecting question get you to the root of a situation. A connecting question had a higher level of engagement, often creates a visual for the person you’re speaking with, and asks what you ‘really need’ to ask. For example, an open-ended question may be “What are you looking for in a partnership?”. The answer to this question may be a list of 15 things. Instead, a connecting question may be “Summarize the three things you need in a partnership, to make it last?”. The connecting question lands differently. It really makes you think through your answer.
To create a connecting question, what and how are great leads. Another option are activators like share, summarize, describe, detail and tell. At this point, in case you haven’t notice, I’ve not included why in your connecting question formula. The reason: Often when asked why, it causes defensiveness, story telling or excuses from the person being asked. Defensiveness is no help when you’re looking to have an intentional conversation. See how this feels:
Why are you wearing that outfit?
Why have you styled your hair that way?
Why would you chose that vehicle?
Why haven’t you got the proposal submitted yet?
Notice you feel more like reacting (with your answer) versus sharing an open conversation.
In reading Insights by Tasha Eurich I’ve learned about a study ran by a pair of Harvard Business School professors that found when people are asked to explain why, they inflate their answer to justify their response. Also, a study by psychologists Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron that goes as far back as 1970 shares that when asked why, “it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” Tasha shares that when we are asked why, we can jump to the easiest answer, can reduce the quality of our decision(s) and fixate on the problem + place blame versus moving forward in a healthy and productive way.
A good list of reasons to stop, or at least slow down, on why you ask why. Including asking yourself why.
And just in case you are wondering, I have read books that support the use why like Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I do believe there are certain situations that Why may be useful. So what I want to leave you with: consider the conversation you’re preparing for and what needs to be asked. Think about what you’re looking to create for the person you’re asking the question and what route they need to explore for the answer.