Why W Questions Work

Why W Questions Work

Strategies I teach are so simple they are often overlooked.

Take for example, the strategy of asking W Questions, or open-ended questions.

Questions that start with who, what, when, where, how, and why. Questions that don't assume anything. Questions that can't be answered with a simple yes or no.

Instead, W Questions invite the other side to open up and share their thoughts with you. When you understand their thoughts, you can understand their decision-making process.

Only when you understand their decision-making process, can you help them make a different decision.

This strategy is so simple, it often gets overlooked. Why?

Because W Questions require genuine curiosity. Genuine curiosity requires openness and willingness to NOT know the answers. It requires accepting uncertainty as a neutral circumstance, not a problem you need to fix or control.

Our brains don't like uncertainty. Our brains would rather have us jump to easy conclusions than be curious (doubly hard when our brains are filled with judgmental thoughts about our negotiation counterpart).

Bias is the natural tendency of our human brains.

Developing the capacity to lead and negotiate means learning to override the natural tendencies of our brains with conscious effort. This is the work we do through coaching.

But when you encounter pushback or get a no, jumping to an interpretation happens in an instant.

My client Irina experienced this when her client asked her to waive the retainer fee for her consulting services.

Her response to the client was this closed-ended question: "Is it a trust issue or a budget issue?"

The client dug into their position, "No, it's not about any of those things. It doesn't make economic sense for us to pay a retainer fee."

Irina was now stuck and didn't know how to move the conversation forward without making a concession.

Here's how she got stuck. With her question, she jumped to the conclusion that her client either didn't trust her or couldn't afford her fees.

With this question, client risked losing face. Even if her assumptions were true, it would be uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing for her client to admit they lacked trust or the funds. So they dug in, instead of opening up.

To win at negotiating, you must be willing to embrace more discomfort than anyone else at the table.

It would be uncomfortable, I told Irina, but advisable to get curious. It's never too late to ask a W Question.

Instead of folding out of frustration, she could ask:

"What will it cost you to slow down the pace of this project?"

"What would it be worth to you to have a dedicated professional completing this sooner rather than later?"


From there, she could listen deeply to her client's response to better understand where they lacked conviction in the value of her services. She could then do something about it.

W Questions. So powerful. So simple.

Next time you're in a conversation to reach agreement, try asking W Questions 80% of the time. Get curious. Listen deep. See what happens.


P.S. According to American Management Association, attending a skills workshop has been show to result in 22% skills improvement. With coaching, skills improved by 88%. Coaching will add rocket fuel to your growth and development. If you'd like support, complete this quick application, and I'll be in touch for a complimentary consultation.

Neutrality = Power

Neutrality = Power

How Asking Three Questions Got Me Around the Globe...Just On Time

How Asking Three Questions Got Me Around the Globe...Just On Time