Are you a person who, like me, has a tendency to ask the ‘why’ question? I am sure it is indicative of an inquisitive mind but I understand that other people can find it frustrating, challenging and annoying. So should us whyers be trying to knock it on the head, find other ways of asking our questions or carry on regardless?

Asking why feels, to me, like an important question to ask when planning new projects, annual work plans, change of direction. But, as it can halt a creative flow of thought, it seems us ‘whyers’ need to get our timing right and get savvy about just when to pose our question.

I know I have a tendency to ask ‘why?’ if I am unclear about a direction of travel, or the rationale  underpinning something, ‘run by me, why are we doing this?’ and that can be annoying especially if the person you are asking doesn’t have an answer themselves. I suspect also, if I’m honest, there is still an element of the stubborn little girl inside me that at times prompts the question, ‘why should I do that.’

‘Why’ has come up again as a focus for discussion in my coaching training where there is emphasis on avoiding the why question. In fact if you Google asking why and coaching you will see that it comes up often under such headings as, ‘the top 10 coaching questions to avoid asking’. So a big no, no in coaching work and a sure sign if a why question pops into your head that you need to do some reframing.

Why? (I just had to sneak one in) Because, as with situations where you are wanting to foster creative thinking, asking a person ‘why’ can feel like a BIG question which sends them into left-brain reasoning and rationalisation rather than right-brain thinking which creates possibility and solutions. If a team is in creative flow and someone like me pops up and asks, ‘yes but why?’ it will stop everyone dead in their tracks while they think about it, end of creative flow.

However, I absolutely know that it has been asking the ‘why’ question that underpinned my steps into research. It was the question which fired my curiosity and led to my PhD, ‘why are we doing things this way?’, ‘Why are we measuring these things?’, ‘Why do we think this is important?’

And so here I am trying hard to avoid slipping into ‘why’ questions in my coaching work when, wouldn’t you know it, people have started asking me, ‘why’ questions’ around why I do what I do.  Yesterday I indulged my whyness by revisiting Simon Sinek’s work on ‘Start with Why’. Yay!

With over 28 million views his TEDex talk from 2009 is one of the most viewed TED talks ever and in it he presents a model for inspirational leadership based on a golden circle and the question ‘why’.

The golden circle is illustrated in the clip from his website below and the basic premise of the model is that there is a tendency for individuals, teams and organisations to start at the outside of the circle and focus on what we do and how we do it whilst neglecting the why we do it. He suggests that people, teams and organisations who are truly impactful work from the inside out starting from the why at the centre of the circle.


Whether you’re a health professional or researcher what is your response if someone asks you, ‘why do you do what you do?’ or if you are contemplating stepping into the world of research, ‘why do you want to do that?’ If, at this point, you are sitting back and thinking, ‘of course I know why’ – fabulous. So how well can you communicate your why and as importantly how often do you communicate your why?

What would it feel like if, when someone asks you what you do, if you answered with your why statement rather than your what? Simon Sinek provides a strong rationale for the reason that such a response would connect at a deeper emotional level, have far more impact and engender more trusting relationships and connections. It moves us away from job titles and into the realm of the values that underpin our lives.

If you are wondering about what a why statement looks like here is what Simon Sinek suggests:


One sentence with 2 components, a statement of contribution and a statement of impact. Maybe not quite so easy now I suspect and if you think you’ve got it sussed … take a look at the About section of the Start With Why website and scroll down to read the why statements of the team. What would it look like if your team or research group were to produce their why statements?

If you are interested in exploring this further there are some resources on the Start With Why website including a downloadable powerpoint presentation and a podcast series that has 3 podcast about the power of why. So over the coming days I’m going to find space to honour the why question, produce my why statement and know that there are times when it is totally fine and indeed absolutely necessary to get down and dirty with understanding ‘why’.