How to Ask Better Questions

by | Feb 1, 2024

I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve text-yelled, internally yelled, or outwardly yelled, “WRONG QUESTION!” 

Jodi is a bit more subtle in her approach, as we discovered last week. However, her approach has been eye-opening. Listening to people. Reading articles. Getting asked the WRONG QUESTION myself, I’ve become much more aware about how many wrong questions are out there. 

Let’s talk about what makes a strong question vs a wrong question. Strong questions start with “what” or “how.” When a question starts with “why,” chances are it will not get a seal of approval. 

Why questions tend to make us defensive. 

“Why are you late?” 

“Why are you wearing that?” 

“Why did you apply for this job?”

“Why did you react like that during the meeting?” 

“Why do you have that agitated look on your face?”

Are you noticing your responses? Are you noticing your reactions? The last question was posed to me last week. My response: “Because I am sick and feel horrible and exhausted and can’t think, and I’ve had to work all day, and there is still more to do, and it’s grey and raining out, and the dog has been underfoot all day, and he stinks. THAT’S WHY.” 

I may have aggressively closed my laptop lid at that point, and the questioner may have rolled his eyes and walked away, not wanting to deal. 

That example shows how “why” questions can bring up strong reactions and aggravation. 

Better questions begin with “what” or “how.” Imagine if the question-in-question was rephrased to, “How was your day?” 

“Well, honestly, I’m feeling sick and exhausted and needed to get a bunch of work done. Now I’m finished…and am going to go take a bath.” 

Same facts, just fewer of them, because there was no reason to pile on because I wasn’t enraged and reactive. Calmer tone. More understanding. Less slamming and stomping away. 

“What” and “how” questions tend to be more expansive, giving the person answering more leeway to fill in details, be more truthful, and share thoughts more fully.  

How can you bring some intention to your question asking?

What could be improved in your relationships if you swapped out “what for “why” when you ask questions?

Note: if you do throw in a reaction-inducing “why” question, an apology (and hug, when appropriate, as was the case with my husband and me last week) goes a long way in bridging the fallout resulting from asking the WRONG QUESTION. 

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