Try asking people ‘what’ this week, instead of asking ‘why’

THERE are certain words that can become real triggers for us as human beings, and we barely even realise it.

A questioning and curious mind is a very powerful tool for exploring the world and our place in it, and can solve the most complex and insurmountable of puzzles and dilemmas.

But just as there is a difference between using a hammer and a scalpel, different tools, and different questions, can get very different results.

For children and adolescents, when their brains are forming, they go through stages of development.

In these stages they can learn to process and handle different types of information in different ways.

"Concrete thinking" is the stage when they are learning about what makes the world work in simple and practical ways.

Many young children are notorious for asking the question "Why?" maybe a thousand times per hour.

They are curious and want to know about what is really happening, even if it can drive their parents to want to pull their hair out.

What is interesting is the difficulty in asking them the same question back.

To ask a child "Why…? Why did they do something; why did they say that; why did something happen; you will get a very curious response that could be accurate, but could be fanciful, or could be a lie, or could be something completely out there... or you might get no response at all.

Sometimes many children will shut down.

The reason for this is that the question of "why?" touches on the places of judgement.

When it comes to judgement, a lot of people take things personally.

When parents fight and then split up, it is almost certain that at some level the children will take it personally.

They may feel at some level that they are not good enough, and that they are responsible for the fights, the loneliness, or one of their parents leaving.

Ask a child "why did your parents split up?" and it is likely that the child may shut down because they feel responsible and they feel judged.

It is not until into the early 20s that you find that the brain shifts to be able to handle the "abstract thinking" more appropriately, but even then the legacy of self-judgement has usually made it a deeply in-ground pattern.

Even a so-called mature adult will still be triggered in their self-judgement when asked a "why?" question, particularly around the personal.

The answer to this is to replace your why questions with "what?" questions.

Ask a child, "what led your parents to split up?" and they will usually be able to tell you about the fights, and their not being enough money, and the drinking, and that incident that happened at the barbecue.

It has been taken out of the personal, and has become more matter-of-fact.

Have a practise with this.

This week, go out and catch yourself every time you want to ask someone a "why?" question and replace it with a "what?" question.

See what kind of responses you get from people.

People will feel less judged by you, because they feel less judged by themselves.

It may even prevent that big argument you were going to have...

Paul Stewart is a Personal Coach with Compassion Coaching: compassion, and also supports the inSight Men's Circle, run through Hopelink 4979 3626.

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