12 questions to ask instead of "WHY"


Have you ever found yourself avoiding questioning some people in your life because in the past they have responded in an emotional way toward you?

Maybe you are not one to engage in confrontation and it is easier to say nothing so that you don't have to experience these negative outbursts.

How great would it be to be able to question someone regarding their behaviours knowing that you will not be on the receiving end of these negative responses?

Chances are, if you have questioned someone's behaviours and had an emotional response, you may have started your line of questioning with "why". 

There is a more effective way to question people about their behaviours that can prevent emotional outbursts and it is as simple as removing the word "why".

We need to question the behaviour and leave the person in tact.


I was talking with my uncle the other day about his teenage daughter. He has been having a very challenging time with managing his daughters behaviours which - by any standard - are way out of control.

Conversations quickly turn into yelling matches and both parties end up feeling miserable, judged, frustrated and defeated. 

Chatting with my uncle, I put on my coaching hat to get to the bottom of how these yelling matches start, to see if we could work together to find another way to manage his daughter's behaviours.

Having listened to a few examples as well as listening intently to the words my uncle was using, I was able to determine that when he questioned his daughter's attitude or behaviours, he started every conversation with "Why". 

From here, I was able to explain how asking "why"impacts his daughter and influences her response.

Armed with the new information and a few examples of what to ask instead, my uncle put into practice what he had learned.

The next time his daughter was yelling at him, he stopped and asked a different question. 

This stopped his daughter in her tracks and she was no longer emotionally charged. 

It defused the situation and both parties were able to have a civil conversation for the first time in a long time.

Such is the power of choosing the words we use with intent.

Why we ask "why".

Children are renowned for asking the question "why" when they are learning and trying to understand the world around them. Have you ever noticed how frustrated parents can get with children when they repeatedly ask this question? "But why?"

We are groomed from a young age and even encouraged to ask this question and as we get older, we continue to use "why" with family, friends, colleagues and even staff. 

Sometimes asking "why" is a reflex action and we are not even aware that we are using this word when  questioning people's behaviours because we have used it for such a long time.

Asking someone about their actions and behaviours and starting with the question "why" will elicit an emotional response from the other person.

Think of the last time you questioned someone and asked, "Why did you do that?" 

What response did you receive?

I am taking a guess that the person who responded may have sounded annoyed, frustrated or even defensive in their response.

Asking "why"someone has done something can also elicit anger from some people.

In these examples, we are specifically referring to questioning someone's behaviours. Specifically, "why did you do that?" 

When you ask "why" you are questioning the person and not the behaviour. This makes your question personal.


Why asking "why" elicits an emotional response.

When we are questioning someone's behaviour, the question "why" is hard wired to a person's beliefs and values.

When you ask, "why did you do that?" you are effectively asking the other person to justify their beliefs and values and this taps straight into their emotions. It becomes an extremely personal question. 

As a result, when people feel challenged to justify their beliefs and values, responses can be emotionally charged.

Our beliefs and values are formed by our personal thoughts and experiences. Our unique set of beliefs and values are developed throughout our lives. Some we are very aware of and passionate about, and others are stored away in our subconscious mind from years of subtle grooming.

Let's image that the person you are questioning is not fully aware of conscious of what their beliefs and values are or how they were formed or where they came from. 

When you ask this person "why" they behaved in a certain way, you are asking them to justify their beliefs and values around the behaviour. 

You are asking them to determine the motivation behind what they did or how they behaved. 

To be able to answer your question, their brain races to recall all of their beliefs and values that they have regarding this situation (at a subconscious level - they are not consciously aware of their beliefs and values around this subject). Their brain tries to process everything they have learned and experienced throughout their life to try and provide you with an answer. 

This internal search can bring up conflicting emotions for the person such as right from wrong, good from bad. 

It can also trigger past experiences and negative feelings to come flooding back to the person's conscious mind. They might become frustrated that they can't find a reason as to why they have behaved a certain way. 

The person's beliefs and values are also fused with their emotions and the brain is now trying to recall how they feel about this situation and their motivation for behaving this way. 

This can become extremely overwhelming and the person being questioned can end up responding to you emotionally.

Be prepared that if you ask someone "why"they behaved a certain way or about anything they have done, you can expect an emotional response as you are questioning their beliefs and values and tapping directly into their emotions.

No wonder parents can become increasing frustrated when their children constantly ask "why?" - their own beliefs and values are constantly needing justification!

The key is to question the behaviour and leave the person intact.


No role for tone

It doesn't matter how nicely you ask "why"someone behaved a certain way or did something, because there is always an element of blame attached to asking "why". 

Think about the last time that you asked someone why they did something.

How were you feeling at the time?

What was the tone in your voice? Frustration? Anger? Curiosity? Bemusement? Humour? 

It actually doesn't matter what your tone of voice is when you ask someone "why" they did something. The other person will still feel a sense of blame and need to justify their motivation (their beliefs and values).

Your tone might however, influence the degree of the emotional response that you receive. If you ask "why" out of frustration and use a harsh, direct tone, then the other person is more likely to respond emotionally in the same manner. Even if you asked "why" with a touch of humour or bemusement in your voice, this might cause the other person to respond in kind, alternatively it might cause them to feel that they are being mocked. This coupled with a feeling of blame could create a more unpredictable emotional reaction.

Our tone is still important when we ask questions. So think about how you are feeling at the time you are asking the question and try and imagine what you might sound like to the other person.

Do keep your tone in check.

The good news is, we can learn to control the responses that we get from other people by eliminating the word "why" altogether when questioning someone else's behaviour.


12 questions to ask instead of "WHY". 

When you want to discover what motivated someone to behave a certain way, there are ways that you can ask them that will prevent an emotional response.

Here are some examples. (The word "THAT" can be replaced with he behaviour that is concerning you.) 

Instead of asking, "why did you do that?"you could ask the following questions.

What questions are great to use because they directly target behaviour and attitude.

  1. What made you do that?
  2. What made that happen?
  3. What were you hoping to achieve in doing that?
  4. What was the benefit to you in doing that?
  5. When you did that, what happened?

How questions are also effective as they directly relate to skills, knowledge and capabilities.

  1. How did you do that?
  2. How did that happen?
  3. How did that feel when you did that?

When questions link to a person's environment and also help you to avoid questioning someone's beliefs and values.

  1. When did you do that?
  2. When did you learn to do that?

Where can also be effective at times and is also linked to a person's environment.

  1. Where did you learn to do that?
  2. Where did that happen? 

The objective is to control the response that you get and we can do this by eliminating the word "why" from our questions when asking people about their behaviours.

The above questions target the behaviour and leave the person intact.

The person being questioned will not feel the need to justify their beliefs and values and as a result, they will be able to respond more effectively to your question with less emotion.



  • If people are responding to you in an emotional way, you may be asking the question "why".
  • Why we ask "WHY" - we are conditioned from a young age to ask this question. 
  • Why asking "why" elicits an emotional response.

                        - The question why is directly linked to our values and beliefs.

                        - Our values and beliefs are hard wired to our emotions.

                        - People feel the need to justify their beliefs and values and this is often expressed emotionally.

  • No role for tone.

                        - It doesn't matter what tone you use, the question why will still elicit and emotional response.

                        - There is a sense of blame already associated with the question why.

                        - Tone is still important, and becomes insignificant when you use the word why.

  • 12 questions to ask instead of "WHY". 

                        - Leave the person intact and ask questions about the behaviour.

                        - Stop using the word "why".

                        - Use the words: What, When, How and Where instead.


I hope that you find this insights helpful.
You might have an effective strategy that has worked for you that you would like to share.
Please feel free to leave a comment or you can contact me directly.
Wishing you much success with building effective relationships.
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Love, Light, Joy.

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