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Why? Don’t be Lazy! by Keith E. Webb

Apr 16th, 2010 | By | Category: Missions Coaching - Guest Posts, [None]

When it comes to questions, few are potentially more powerful than “Why.” Yet, I rarely use it. It is a lazy question.

It’s easy to ask “Why?”, but also a lazy way to ask. The answer to “Why?” is often as rote as the answer to “How are you?” Both questions produce immediate, simplistic responses. And not much reflection.

Instead, rephrase “Why?” into a question that will cause deep reflection and generate multiple responses.

Simplistic to Multiple Responses
Asking “Why” can easily generate simplistic, single reason responses that are not thought through.

Question: “Why do you want to minister in Japan?”
Answer: “To reach Japanese people.”

Surely, this person has multiple reasons for ministering in Japan, yet asking “Why?” didn’t elicit them. Instead, rephrase the question to pull out multiple reasons by adding an “s”.

Multiple Reasons: Add an “s”

  • What factors did you consider in choosing Japan?
  • What outcomes did you hope to achieve by doing moving there?
  • What options do you see in ministering there?

Each question will get to “Why” but does it in a way that pulls out multiple reasons and from various contexts. You can then add, “What else?” to get even more reasons.

Missing Context to Focused Reflection
Asking “Why?” doesn’t give enough context. What are you asking about? Do you want the client to reflect on reasons, motivations, anticipated results, or what? Asking specifically about each area will generate a much richer response.

Get To Motivations

  • In what ways does this plan line up with your calling?
  • What would achieving that do for your organization?
  • What benefits would you expect to receive?

Analyze the Situation

  • How would you summarize the results of your time here?
  • What are the key decisions you’ve made that have gotten you this far?
  • What do you think are the tangible and intangible causes of this problem?


  • What are your reasons for doing it this way? What other ways might be possible?
  • How did your team adopt this policy? How well does this policy serve your team today?

It’s said that if you ask “Why?” five times you’ll get to the root cause. In practice, asking “Why?” five times usually irritates the client or causes defensiveness!

Forming questions that focus the context and elicit multiple responses will take cause the client to reflect more deeply. It may take a series of questions, but those questions will be interesting to the client and examine causes from multiple perspectives.

——-Join the dialogue and leave your comments below——-

Dr. Keith E. Webb is a cross-cultural leadership coach helping organizations, teams, and individuals multiply their cross-cultural impact. Keith has lived in Asia for 20 years. He developed the 60-hour Core Coaching Skills Certificate Program and offers a free monthly newsletter with articles like this one.


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