Questions to pose to get answers/solutions to dilemmas (Part 1). –
BY: Marcia Sapoznik, LMFT; Ph.D. (ABD)
“Don’t wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don’t ask me why”. BY: Billy Joel – From the album: Glass Houses
Many of us pose questions to ourselves and others hoping that the answers will motivate us to take the first step to set goals that will become the changes we seek. As a psychotherapist/coach, I ask my clients many questions that will help them realize the answers and solutions. Questions are also a good way to start conversations – when you pose a question, the other person will respond, and then you can respond to that person and so-on. Let’s explore what types of questions will provide the type of response you are seeking.
My clients often ask me more questions than I do to them. Yet, my questions to them foster change and their questions to me keep them stuck. Most clients ask “Why is this thing – _________ happening to me (or to/with the other person)?” This question often leads to multiple answers. Let’s analyze what happens when a “WHY” question is posed.
Asking a “WHY” question often leads to many answers, such as when asking: “Why is s/he acting this way?”, the possible answers can range from: 1. – “It’s a habit”, 2. – That’s what s/he learned when young”, 3. – S/He doesn’t know another way to respond”, and many other possible answers. What these answers to a WHY question have in common is that the answers give you reasons for the behaviors, reactions, thoughts, emotions, and/or feelings.
Does the answer help you find a solution or set a goal for change? Usually the answer leads to more questions, such as: “Why can’t s/he change that habit”? Or, “Why can’t I change my habit?” So more Why questions get posed, such as “Why am I (s/he) stuck in this pattern?” Even possibly asking “Why is this – _________ happening over and over “? Or “Why am I not moving forward in my change/goal setting and achieving”? It seems that within a few seconds, the only question posed are “WHY” questions. Have any of the answers you gave helped you in setting goals and finding ways to achieve those goals? If the answer is NO, then let’s see what happens with posing these questions another way.
What happens to the answer if the questions begin with “WHAT”? The first question now changes to: ”What am I (s/he) doing that this thing ___________ happens so often?” How has your answer changed? Once we pose a question with a “What” question, the possible answers include analyzing our (their) behaviors and where they stem from, because now you’re looking for a behavior and/or attitude that you can change. A “What” questions provides solutions, a “Why” question provides reasons. How often knowing the reasons helps you change? Also, “Why’s” also provide excuses, such as: “Why am I still repeating the same behaviors?” The answers can range from “I learned this as a youngster and don’t know what else to do”, “S/he doesn’t know how to change”, “It has worked for others in my family”, and many other answers that excuse you form taking the next steps toward change.
The questions I use include “What, When, Whom, Who, Where, How, Which”. I pose these most often because once a person hears their answers, they are hearing their motivation to change, set, and achieve goals. I rarely use a “Why” question, because the answers can be excuses they give themselves and the answers can become redundant and not productive.
Another question that can help you move the conversation forward, or to yourself, is to ask “When”, such as “When will the changes I seek begin?, or “When will the dishes be done”? That can then change into a “How” question, such as “How will I achieve my goals”, or “How can I help with the chores”?. The answers then become the steps needed to take to get from thinking about the goal, to setting the goal, to taking the steps from setting the goals to achieving them. “How” question provide you with answers that resemble the ‘process’ of when and how to begin, and what to do to set the goals in motion. That is one of the steps needed to begin finding solutions. Seeking and finding solutions provides you with a higher sense of Self-Worth. And motivation to achieve more adds to higher Self-Esteem.
In future blogs I’ll be discussing more types of conversation starters and what types of questions to pose that will help you understand the other person you are conversing with.