Why not “Why?”

Most coaches have been trained to avoid why questions. But why is that?

Let’s explore the reasoning behind this and learn how you can sharpen your coaching questions.

Why do we avoid why?

What’s wrong with why questions?

Why questions aren’t always a problem, but too often they lead the coachee in an unhelpful direction.

  • Asking a question starting with why can often make people defensive. They’re on the back foot and that isn’t a great position for coaching.
  • Or they think you want the whole backstory, so they launch into the minutiae of it all. This is also not so useful for a coaching conversation.

‘Why’ is big and broad and there are a whole lot of reasons we use it without thinking too much about it.

Why did you ask that question?

What were you trying to achieve with your question?

Maybe you asked a why question and it had the exact impact you intended. Or maybe it added a lot of unnecessary information that took a lot of time and distracted both you and the client from the direction you intended to take them in.

Why questions are so easy to misinterpret. They can be useful at times, but it really is best to save ‘why’ for special occasions and for most of the time choose more dependable questions.

How can I ask better questions?

First, get conscious about the intention of your question, then find a different question that will have more predictable results.

Ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve?” Then think about how else you could get where you want to go using a ‘what’ or ‘how’ question. You will likely find a question that gets you more dependable results.

Here are some examples of why questions and some alternatives:

Why is that important?

  • What’s important about that?

Why do you do that?

  • What’s the cause of that?
  • What is your intention?
  • How does that happen? 
  • What motivates your actions?

Why do you say that? 

  • What is important/true about what you just said?

Why do you talk to yourself that way? 

  • How would you say that to someone you cared about?

Then, practise, practise, practise. And try a ‘why’ question now and again to see what happens.


  1. Become more conscious about where you really want to point your client’s attention.
  2. Use what and how questions because they are more dependable for getting to where you want to go.
  3. What and how usually generate less defensiveness or long stories from your client.
  4. The more you practise this, the faster it will become a habit.

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