Thursday, 19 November 2009

Question words

We have questions words to explore and get answers. They work in different ways and are many times also received differently.
Do not just jump in and fire away all your 5W1H questions. They are different tools. Just like hammer and saw are different tools for a carpenter.

what? is used to establish. Fact oriented. "What is that?" "What happened?" "What are going to do?" Often a rather neutral word. Will rarely create any upset feelings.

where? do not establish - but used to clarify. Cannot stand on its own. No danger in using this question. Just clarifying something.

when? is also a clarifying question. Often related to something we learned from the "what?"

who? is getting tougher. Now we want to know who did something or who should do something. We are touching on responsibilities and blame (or reward!). Not a good question to start with. And who-questions can also create feelings and emotions.

why? is the hardest. Now we search for justification or reason. "Why did you do that?", "Why does it work that way?" We are asking for opinions and justifications. We are not creating actions with "why". Watch out with this one. It is nice to know why something happens or why we should do it. But it is a risky question.

how? is an action trigger. With how you either trigger problem solving or story-telling. "How did it happen?" "How can we do this?" No blame - just a request to tell a story. This is also the question that best engages the other person. We are talking to the other persons knowledge and intelligence and asks for a story or solution.
This is not always fact-based so the answer can be more "free".

This is of course over-simplified. But consider that question words are different. What do you want to achieve? Are you running a trial? Solving a problem? Looking for a way forward? The different tools will shape the discussion, responses and relation differently.

Select your tools wisely!

I like the "how"-tool best. But I also use all the other questions too.

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