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  • Writer's pictureTasha Harmon

Transforming "Why" to "What"

Often, when we are feeling stuck and frustrated, we are asking ourselves, or our colleagues or friends, "why" questions:

Why is this so hard?

Why am I uncomfortable?

Why can't I/we/they just get that done?

Why is there so much resistance to…?

But much of the time, the why questions don't seem to get us anywhere.

We find ourselves still bogged down, still feeling stuck in the problems without much clarity about how to solve them.

There is a good reason for that.

"Why" questions tend to move us into resistance, rather than out of it — they ask us to explain or justify our feelings or actions, rather than inviting us to look for creative solutions.

It is far more effective to ask "What" questions if you want to move forward.

  • "Why is this so hard?" becomes "What about this is hard?"

  • "Why am I/are we uncomfortable?" becomes "What is it about this that makes me/us uncomfortable?"

  • "Why can't I/we/they just get that done?" becomes "What is in the way of getting that done?"

  • "Why is there so much resistance to…?" becomes "What is it that we are resisting?"

  • "Why don't we/I want to…?" becomes "What is it that we/I don't want?"

"What" questions are much easier to answer. And, notice, you likely feel less contraction and resistance around answering them.

They tend to move us out of judgment and into curiosity, and to provide more concrete information for us to work with as we look for creative solutions.

Once you have done the most direct translation, look for more "what" questions that will illuminate the challenge you are facing.

For example, if the first answer feels self-evident, or like a dead end (i.e. you answer "what is hard about this?" with "it's overwhelming"), stay curious and ask a "what" question about that answer ("what makes it overwhelming?") and see where that leads you.

Powerful Questions

Here are a few powerful "what" questions to try out when you feel stuck:

  • What do I/we want?

  • What am I/are we assuming?

  • What am I/are we resisting?

  • What am I/are we tolerating?

  • What questions do I/we have about this?

  • What would make it easy?

  • What would make it fun?

What Else?

When we invite our minds to give us information by asking a "what" question, our minds will generally start by offering us the answers they know best.

When we feel stuck, these “easy” answers often don’t help. We need to get farther outside what we already know.

To get there, try asking "what else?"

Continuing to ask until you completely run out of possible responses. Let yourself be wildly impractical at this stage; this is where the creativity comes from. Later you can go back and decide what you want to act on.

Try this out, on your own, or in a meeting or conversation. I suspect you'll be surprised at how quickly you get to the heart of what needs action.

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