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Ian Day - The urban myth of the 'why...' question. Can coaches ask 'why...?"


There is an un-written rule amongst practitioners that coaches must not ask the ‘why’ question. Practicing coaches can be very passionate in their heart-felt belief that coaches must not ask ‘why...?’ as it creates defensiveness within the client. But this is like the legend of King Arthur, the origins of this myth are unclear and there is little actual evidence. But, as with King Arthur, the myth of the ‘why’ question continues in popular coaching folklore, passed down from one coach to the next, from generation to generation. However, it is not possible to cite a research paper, for example, which states “8 out of 10 coaches believe that asking ‘why’ is bad” or that “evidence states that 70% of coachees felt defensive when asked a ‘why’ question. This article explores the origins of this myth and the alternative realities of asking ‘why?’, with the intention of ending this myth, and freeing coaches to ask an incredibly valuable question which can unlock meaning, awareness of personal values and motivation. The intention of this article is not to criticise, only to enable coaching colleagues to question and explore the origins of established beliefs.

Read more about this research project in the online publication of International Journal of Coaching PsychologyLink opens in a new window.

Researcher profile


Ian Day is Assistant Professor in Coaching Programmes at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick.

 Staff profile