In mediation and counseling, the topic is often about reducing conflict. Changing one thing about how we ask questions isn’t a guarantee, but it sure can help.
“When they ask me questions, I feel like I’m being set up for a debate or a fight. They ask me, ‘Why do you feel hurt?’ or ‘Why is this so important to you?’ It doesn’t seem like they’re trying to understand. I feel attacked and like I need to defend myself.”
This is a good picture of how “Why” questions can shut down healthy conversation. When people worry about being wrong, sounding stupid, or having a fight, they justify or defend themselves rather than trying to communicate.
If we want a safe place for conversation and care about the person and the relationship, use questions of how, when, where, or what.
Using the scene from the opening description, these are alternative questions: “How did you hear what I said as hurtful? I want to understand,” or “What about this is important to you? I want to get it.” They create the potential for healthy dialogue.
Asking “Why” questions is a window into our own insecurities. The one place where it may be helpful is with ourselves.