Why You Should Never Ask “Why”

Why You Should Never Ask “Why”

You might think that all questions are created equal, that’s actually not the case when you look at conversations from a Neuro-lingustic Programming (NLP) point of view.

When we are engaging in conversation, some question naturally open a conversation up, and others close them down. What we look for in the study of NLP is conversations or patterns of behaviour that get excellent results and bring out excellent behaviour. Then we look to duplicate and recreate the results we desire and eliminate or reduce those that we don’t like so much.

When we are talking to people we want them to like us, respond in a positive way and be open to their point of view. Some words and questions help us get this result, and some break conversations down and create friction, frustration or even arguments. Which as a result neither party enjoys or benefits from.

Offending someone and getting them offside is definitely a pattern we want to avoid, no matter the situation. An argument with your teenager, your spouse, your co-worker, your staff or the school principle will not get either party to a place they desire, and may make future conversations more difficult or even impossible.

That’s why we want to do what we can to avoid negative conversations and keep healthy relationships, because we are always looking for that win-win situation and results that move us toward our desired destination.

In a lot of cases we don’t even know where the conversations are breaking down. It can often seem like the other person is reacting irrationally or out of context with what you are asking or suggesting. So much of what we say is in HOW we present that information and lots of that happens on an automatic unconscious level in our brain, in learned patterns and responses we picked up as children and move into our adult lives without ever realising it. That means we can be igniting fires and causing conflicts in the way we present ourselves, without ever being aware of it.

NLP is all about changing your focus so you start to realise what you say, how you say it and what kind of impact that has on other people. When we are more aware of our language patterns, we can make positive changes to get better results inside, and out.

To get a great conversation rolling open-ended questions are a must. You know if it is an open ended questions because the other person needs to give any response that is more than just a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Open questions are: Who, How, When and What.

Questions that open this way invite a person to give their ideas, opinions, details and insert their story into the conversation. It’s a great way to make friends, meet interesting people and develop great rapport with anyone. That might be people in your office, extended family, social networking events, you name it, open ended questions work anywhere, just as long as you have time to stop and listen! It’s a way of showing that person you are listening and you care about their input so in tricky situations (i.e. talking to your ex), it gets you off on the right foot.

The biggest draw card about rapport is that you are genuinely interested in the other person; in what they have to say and who they are. In a world where everyone is competing to talk about themselves, (not just person to person, but outside of that as well through blogs, advertising, radio and news) everyone is snapping all day long shouting, “Me, Me ME!”

Having someone listen is an impacting and highly valuable experience. For five minutes in the day it’s “You, you you.” What a noticeable difference!

Open-ended questions are all about taking an interest and getting more detail about someone else. You make them and their answer the most interesting thing in the conversation and the effect is that person feels interesting. It’s an awesome gift to give someone and the rewards are respect, strong rapport and an open-minded approach and interest to what you have to say next.

What’s more they will remember their conversation with you as one of the most interesting conversations they have ever had. They might even tell their friend that YOU are the most interesting person they have ever met, even if you don’t actually do anything in the conversation but ask questions.

Not that I’d recommend having a one-way conversation like that; go for three open-ended questions in a row and then do some talking yourself and show some engagement. I just say that because I have actually had a conversation with a stranger (a friend of a friend) in a pub where I decided to test and see if open-ended questioning really work.

This is going back a while to when I was first studying NLP and I thought, right, I’m going to push this to the limits. So I asked open-ended questions for about 40 minutes to this person I had never met and yep, it absolutely worked. He told my friend’s whole group how interesting I was. “Matt is such an interesting guy!” He said it over and over!

I didn’t say anything the whole time! He found the conversation interesting because it was solely about his interests and likes, and that all came back to reflect on me in a really positive way. So I might have doubted the open-ended question thing in the classroom, but I definitely didn’t have any doubts after testing it in the real world and getting that kind of amazing response.

So, now you might be thinking, “But, Matt ‘Why’ is also an open-ended question.”

Okay so yes, Why is one of those questions that require an answer longer than Yes/ No, so while it is technically open-ended, it’s a question you should avoid using if you want a positive result.


Why No Why?

Why can seem to be confrontational, even if you don’t mean it to sound that way.

‘Why?’ can sound like an accusation, like the person deliberately chose that action and wanted that particular result. This can cause conflict if that action wasn’t intended and the result was undesired, which, more often than not is actually the case.

“Why didn’t you pick up the milk on the way?”

Can be interpreted as that person deliberately didn’t complete that required task.

“Did you forget the milk?”

Is a closed question where the person doesn’t get a lot of room. It can be limiting or intimidating.

Open-ended questions come with an open mind on your part that the person may have multiple answers to the one in your head. i.e. You assume they forgot the milk. Maybe that wasn’t the case.

“How did you go getting milk on the way?”

This question allows that person to tell their own story and also a chance for you to listen to their response.

Possible responses are endless.

-The shop was out.

-It’s getting delivered in a minute, I got a few at once.

-My car broke down I called someone else to get it for me.

-Shoot, I left it in the car, lucky you reminded me.

-I’m so sorry, I totally forgot.

Give them a chance to say what they need to say. Their answer might surprise you.

If you think that asking open-ended questions will result in rambling excuses, actually, the opposite is true. When faced with a Why? many people will feel obligated to defend their actions, it’s almost as though they have been commanded to explain, make excuses, justify or blame someone else to get around the feeling of being put on the spot. It’s usually a scrambled, unplanned response that has everyone feeling uncomfortable and leaves a bad feeling afterwards.

Opening the question up to a What, How, Who or When question gets a more honest response because the self-protection shield is less likely to be activated, people have time to think of what they want to say and will genuinely feel comfortable about telling the truth.

No one likes to feel like they are in an interrogation room, right? Especially not in front of other people. ‘Why?’ is exactly what that creates, especially if you pile your Whys one after the other, trapping that person into a feeling of being in a cell or hauled in front of the class to be berated by the teacher.

Learning to avoid why questions is as easy as paying attention to the reactions that you get when you use it (and also to the way you react when you are asked Why questions). Remember that NLP is all about promoting language that gets excellent results. The best part about it is we naturally want excellent results so as soon as your brain registers that Why? isn’t very effective and Who, What, How, When and Where gets great results you will just start to naturally adopt open-ended questions more and more.

It’s important to note that no amount of NLP will ever ‘make’ a person agree with you. If what you say is against their beliefs or values no matter how you put it will ever ‘make’ them say, ‘yes’ or go along with your suggestion. The benefit of building great rapport through open-ended questions is they are less likely to get defensive or feel sidelined. You will be opening up to a conversation about your request; what works, and what doesn’t and allowing the flexibility to have a discussion. That’s what I call a win-win.

Building great relationships starts with you paying attention to your current communication patterns and making small and highly valuable alterations to get incredible results.

Learn how at Excellence Now with our team of dedicated professional NLP trainers who can open your world and mind to recognising, and duplicating excellence in every area of life.

Matt Catling


Your future now

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1300 997 669

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