Today I’d like to explore a question that came up recently on one of our free-to-attend “Bite-sized Clean” group Zoom sessions. The question that was put to me was: “Why isn’t ‘why’ a Clean question?” And it really got me thinking! After all, it’s one of the six key open questions that I can remember learning as a kid in that rhyme by Rudyard Kipling. Do you know that one? Here it is as a reminder:

“I keep six honest serving men.

They taught me all I knew

Their names are what and why and when,

And how, and where and who”

I can remember how this was so useful to me when I first started out as a sales and marketing consultant. Open questions would really encourage the other person to share – to open up the conversation. And they definitely helped to get people talking. But Clean questions are not the same thing as open questions. In fact, one of the most useful and well used Clean Language question that I know is a closed question which is “And is there anything else about that x?” (‘x’ being whatever the client has just said). And this question can clearly be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

So what’s the difference then, between a Clean question and an open question?

Well, a clean question is one that is not contaminated with our own judgments, opinions, or biases. And that’s the problem with “Why”. Most people have experienced being asked “Why” when it’s come from a position of blame. And even if you ask “Why” with no such baggage, it stands a good chance of triggering our client anyway, to feel judged, or possibly to invite blame elsewhere. Now, I would add, I never personally heard David Grove ever ask anyone a “Why” question. Although I also don’t ever remember him explaining a reason for that. So the explanation I’ve given today is my interpretation. And I’d really welcome others view on this. So please respond and add a comment if you have another perspective on this!

Thank you.