3 thoughts on “changing the question

  1. KimM says:

    Exactly. I learned a long time ago, from a good teacher, to never ask ‘Why’ questions—but always ‘Who, What, When, Where, or How’ questions.

    ‘Why’ questions only give you ‘because’ answers—-not really what you’re looking for.

    It’s better to spend time developing a really good (specific) question to get the answer you need. Better questions lead to better, more helpful, answers.


  2. Who, what, when and where questions are certainly helpful for gaining some information, but they are also closed questions, requiring a single discrete piece of information. Open-ended questions, such as why, tell me, help me understand, describe, etc., encourage others to share with us. If I ask you a question that encourages you to talk to me, I am showing you great respect and interest in you. If I care about you, then I spend less energy focusing on the answer I need (all about me) and more on letting you share as you wish.


  3. I agree that asking open-ended questions may encourage sharing. I particularly like your point, Gregory, about open-ended questions showing respect and interest. Different situations and personalities will require unique communications. Is it the first question you are asking or the 38th? Are you gathering general information or do you need to know how something specifically works? Are you asking information about systems and machines or people and motivation or both? Finding the right question, as you note above, Kim, is critical to getting good – valid – data. Darla Breckenridge’s thought about changing the question from “Why” is that the “Why” question can be difficult to answer, particularly when it comes to human behavior, and that it may put us on the defensive. As she states, “Why” can be “a hard question for any of us to answer.” Using some of the other words for seeking information can be the ones that are most encouraging for sharing.

    Thanks for your comments!


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