Is “Why” an Appreciative Question?

A few days ago I shared a fascinating HBR article on LinkedIn titled, Become a Company That Questions Everything. The article talks about how companies should encourage curiosity in the workforce by inviting employees and other stakeholders to ask questions. The article itself has a large graphic of the word “why”. As I shared the article on our various social media outlets, one person asked me if “why” is an appreciative question. I stopped what I was doing just so that I could let that question sink in. I mean, I believed it could be, depending on the context in which it is used but I was curious as to what others thought.

After pondering the question for a day or so, I posted the question on various LinkedIn groups I am connected to. The question spread like wildfire. I was honored that so many people took the time to share their thoughts and experiences. The discussions that emerged were engaging and insightful.

Most of the responses I read agreed that while “why” might not be the first choice in questions we ask our clients, it could, however, be appreciative depending on the context, tone, intention, and the level of trust between the inquirer and the client. In my work with Appreciative Inquiry, I have learned that crafting questions, so that they are both appreciative and meaningful to the client, is more of an art form than methodology. Our success as practitioners lies in our ability to recognize which type of question will work best for the situation. Many of you provided great examples of appreciative “why” questions. Some examples of appreciative “why” questions included, but were not limited to:

  • “Why do you think this works so well?”
  • “Why do we feel great when we accomplish something as a team?”
  • “Why do you think you are at your best when you do something that you enjoy?”
  • “Why was ________ a success?”
  • “Why do you feel you learned so much from this challenge?”
  • “Why it is important for you to accomplish this?”
  • “Why am I seeing so many great traits in my partner now?”
  • “Why am I feeling so much more confident now?”
  • “Why is this pursuit becoming alive for you?”

One person wrote, “When using ‘why’ to draw out the best potential in something it helps to invigorate imaginations”; another wrote, “Asking ‘Why’ can produce deeply reflective insight into the drivers for the envisioned future. It can also help define the ‘alchemy’ of what works really well.” According to the Constructionist Principle of Appreciative Inquiry, we live in a world created through our social discourse; that “our story is our perspective, and there are an infinite number of perspectives.” I believe “why” when used appropriately, can help us to peel back the subconscious layers of our mind to reveal our core values and beliefs. In my pursuit to become more mindful and appreciative, I keep a daily gratitude journal. While I ask myself the common “who, what where, when and how” questions, I am often called to reflect on the ‘why’. I find myself reflecting on questions like, “Why do I feel so good about myself now?” or “Why is it important to reflect on the positive in this situation?” The answers to questions such as these result in a change in my perspective or a positive shift in my reality. As new information becomes available, I think it may be important to draw out such answers that may only surface as a result of the use of “why” questions.

As practitioners we must remain mindful that the questions we ask are fateful. The moment we ask a question, we begin to create change. What questions are you asking? What change are you creating? Words create worlds. As one person shared, “Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language” – Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Melissa Robaina

About Melissa Robaina

Melissa Robaina, MBA is an Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator and Consultant for the Company of Experts. For the last few years, Melissa has worked for the Company as a content creator and has collaborated with numerous subject matter experts around the world researching, organizing, and writing material that nurtures discussion and is applicable to today’s rapidly changing environment. Melissa has an interest in adult learning theory and is passionate about coordinating, developing, and facilitating transformation solutions in all human systems. Melissa has also co-facilitated Company of Experts offerings related to Change, Paradigm Shifts and Online offerings.

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