An Alternative to the Question: “Why?”


It’s something we all do.  We question.  We ask “why”?  However, while a good question, it’s not a question I find to be very helpful.  When I’m asked “why” my thoughts go all over the place.  I’m NOT a linear thinker and I find this question difficult to answer sometimes even though I know the answer.  Actually, I should re-phrase that a bit and say I find it difficult to answer this question in a way that will be easy for the interrogator to understand my thought process and reach a common ground quickly.  It’s a problem.   To make it less of a problem (for me), when people ask me why, I re-phrase  it in my head to ask “What needs to be true”?  I started doing this with others and have been pleased with the outcome.


Hopefully, this is something that is useful to you or at least worthy of trying. I use the question “What needs to be true?” in the following scenarios:


  • When someone says something isn’t possible.
    • What needs to be true for it to be possible?   
  • When someone says they cannot complete something.
    • What needs to be true in order for you to complete______?
  • When someone says there is a problem.
    • What needs to be true so this will no longer be a problem?
  • When there is a goal or objective that needs to be met.
    • What needs to be true for you to meet this goal/objective?


When I ask “What needs to be true?” it shifts the perspective a bit more towards action-oriented versus laundry listing.  It also seems (to me) to be a bit more positive in general.   The problem solving is already beginning.  It’s not the final, end-all or be-all question to be sure but, it’s a more active start.  Here’s how it works in a non-work setting:


Statement:  I can’t organize my house.


What needs to be true so you can organize your house?


  1. I need to have time to dedicate to the task.
  2. I need to have a structure in place that will be easy to maintain.
  3. I need my family to agree to help organize and, then, maintain it.
  4. I need to have less stuff.
  5. I need a place to start.


From there, I can dig in a bit more:


  1.  How much time do you think you need to start? Where is it in priority to other things you have going on?
  2. How much structure do you need to begin?  What does “easy to maintain” mean to you?
  3. How do you go about getting the family to agree?  What if they won’t or don’t?
  4. How much less stuff?  How will you decide what stuff you need and don’t?
  5. What area of your house drives you the most insane?


I also like using this question when I put an idea out there for people to consider and they have a visceral, “That is NOT possible here”, response to it.  Then, they tell me so many things that would need to be true and I can follow up with another one of my favorite questions:   “What are you waiting for”? 


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