Are you asking yourself “what” or “why”

My friend Mike Donahoe once expressed the wisdom and accretive power of "why" rather "what" questions.

Mike used the example of teenagers.

Background and context: Teenager is late coming home at designated curfew.

Probable tendency as a parent might be to ask "why are you late?" (EDITORS NOTE: My parents did.) Evokes immediate defensiveness on the part of the teenager. (EDITORS NOTE: True-I resented it as I mistook the query as a lack of trust issue ) As a result, teenager might get angry (fight/flight/freeze in relation to stimulus) & "shut down." (EDITORS NOTE: I did!)

Mike pointed out that a truly enlightened approach might be to ask "what could we do together to be sure that you arrive home safely at home at our agreed to designated curfew?"

Do you see the difference?

I came across this notion again recently in some published research from noted organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich

According to Eurich, as it turns out, "why" is a surprisingly ineffective self-awareness question. (Mike was ahead of his time on this one!)

Seems the human mind rarely operates in a rational, linear fashion. Therefore, our judgments are seldom free of bias (our own).

Dubious? Let me illustrate further.

Jose hated his job. Many would get stuck in the revolving door of "why do I feel so crappy about my job?" An enlightened approach might be to ask "what are the situations here that cause me to feel crappy and what do they have in common?" Jose quickly came to realize that he'd never be happy in his career. It gave him the courage to pursue a new and far more personally fulfilling career elsewhere. As a result, Jose accelerated his own self-awareness and responded in a way that worked for him.

So in closing, to increase productive self-insight and decrease unproductive self rumination we should ask what, not why.