Any long-time coach (or journalist) will tell you the same thing: Success begins with asking the right question.
In The Advice Trap, best-selling coach Michael Bungay Stanier shares a simple, powerful way to start your questions - and to improve your chances of getting an honest answer.
Don't start with "Why"
In The Advice Trap, Bungay Stanier gives seven definitive coaching questions. All of them start with "What". Here's why:
We avoid 'Why...' because it can often trigger a defensive response, and 'How...' because it moves the conversation too quickly to the action-oriented/time-to-solve-it phase of the conversation. 'What...' questions are rooted in curiosity, and seem to work best on a daily basis to open up new insight.
I love that he assumes ("on a daily basis") you will be asking someone more questions after the fact. In other words, you aren't just trying to get an answer, but actually building a relationship with whom you speak. If you aren't going to see them again, then you can presumably ask the question any way you want.
Why "What" works
Asking "Why" can work, but only if the question you're asking can't be interpreted as evasive, personal or risky. In other words, any question of depth can make people not give you a straight answer.
As Bungay Stanier suggests, "What" implies curiosity, even if you have a strong idea of what the answer will be. In fact, it may even force you to be more open-minded than you would be otherwise.
I talked about the power of curiosity in my column on entrepreneurship and children:
It's not just a matter of being infinitely curious, but also understanding that every single thing is new. They look at things with fresh eyes because they truly don't know the truth. The main difference between us and toddlers is that we already believe we know the truth.
"Why?" demands accountability. "How?" pushes immediate action. "What?" asks for their version of the truth.
You have to ask yourself what you really want.