Lately, I’ve been waging war against an opponent who’s far more tenacious than me. The enemy, in the form of my young daughter, is a skilled fighter, and her weapon of choice is a string of questions, delivered so fast that I can’t even answer one before the next salvo is fired. The bombardment is constant and merciless, with every question starting with a single word that lets me know that I’m in for a long battle. Why.
Why do you go to work? Why do you have a hole in your socks? Why do you shout at the gentleman in his car? Why are you laughing? Why are you crying?
The questions tumble effortlessly out of her mouth. After a while, I find that I’m powerless against this barrage and can only look at her lips moving without hearing a sound. I’ve found that counting the endless questions that I get on a daily basis is useful when I’m struggling to fall asleep. I’d recommend it to you as well – don’t count sheep, count the whys.
In this situation, where I’m constantly under attack, the enemy’s brief retreat leaves me with a few moments to collect myself and get to grips with why the questions sometimes land with such force.
Why. Often the question comes from the pure curiosity of a 3-year-old (Daddy why do you brush your teeth?). Other times, however, a question may appear superficial but triggers deep thought. It takes me to places in my mind where my entrenched habits – both good and bad – live, and I have to shake off the dust to better understand my behaviour.
Dad, why do you smoke? Dad, why don’t you eat meat? Dad, why do you meditate?
In today’s fast-moving world, where attention spans are short, and distractions are plentiful, constructive introspection often ends up on the back burner. By not paying attention, a simple behaviour becomes anchored, turning into a habit that we no longer bother to challenge.
So what does this have to do with coaching, you ask. Well, coaching is the art of asking open-ended questions such as how, when, who, what, using different variations in phrasing. In coaching, we lean towards open-ended questions because their answers open up a dialogue, unlike closed-ended questions, which return a simple yes or no response, for example.
During a coaching session, a well-placed why can quickly unveil a hidden problem for a person who’s hesitant to get to the heart of the matter, or one who doesn’t have the awareness about the issue he or she is facing. As a coach, I’m careful to use open-ended questions with caution to not come across as intrusive, aggressive, or at worst, accusatory. Rephrasing the question as “what is the reason, for what purpose,” delivers the same results less directly.
Asking why allows us to see the underlying intent of a behaviour or habit. It enables us to take a step back and look at a situation with fresh eyes. From this new perspective, the potentially inflammatory “Daddy why do you smoke?” could lead you to think deeply about why a habit that took hold of you in adolescence is still meaningful to you today.
When you want to interrogate what still makes sense in your career, relationships, or habits, use “why” to discover what your answer reveals. This introspection is often not a simple stroll in the park. It can be painful and leave you feeling vulnerable. Which is why it’s crucial to have a coach you trust and one whom you can confide in.
In your life journey, this deeper questioning, as gentle or probing as it is, will allow you to get clarity and validation. At the very least, you may discover what it is that makes you uniquely you.
Armed with this renewed attitude, I return to the trenches knowing that my enemy is not ready for my revised strategy. Going forward, I will use her ammunition to my advantage, and I won’t fight it. Besides, this is an enemy I’m always happy to engage with.
Take care of yourself, why not?