Interview Survival Skills: Why are you still asking 'why?'

To get to the bottom of why someone behaved a certain way, remember this …

Asking “Why?” puts the other person on the defensive.
Compare these two examples:

“Why did you falsify your overtime hours on your time sheet?”
“In relation to the time sheet, help me understand something … what made you falsify the overtime hours?”
“What made you” questions give the other person these two impressions:
You’re assuming there’s a legitimate explanation for the behaviour; and
You’re willing to understand that reason.
The combination of the above two impressions, the reduced number of “you”  and “your” and the distancing language is geared towards maintaining rapport and fostering full elicitation.  It lowers the other person’s defences.

Did you notice the “Why” question has “you” x 1 and “your” x 2 while the “what made you” question has only one “you”?  This subtle difference has the effect of removing the confrontational and blaming aspect from the question.

Notice also the intentional distancing caused by “the time sheet” and “the overtime hours” as opposed to “your overtime hours” and “your time sheet”. A cool psychological ploy for further removing the barriers to full elicitation of the truth.


And, finally, did you see the embedded request for help?  Try embedding phrases such as:

Help me understand … what made you

Help me clarify … what made you

Help me here … what made you

Help me get this right … what made you

Embedded requests for help work on the natural human inclination to respond positively to such requests.
Professor Ellen Langer astounded us with their now famous Xerox machine experiment where they showed that people that were lined up to use a photocopier were more likely to allow someone to cut in front of them if offered a reason.

Astoundingly, it did not matter if the reason made sense.  People were just as receptive to a meaningless reason (such as “to make copies”) as they were to a valid one (such as “I’m in a rush”).

And, just like the above experiment, by embedding a request for help you’re giving a reason, i.e., you need their help in understanding the situation, for the other person to disclose the “why”.

Here are some more examples of “what made you” questions:

“What made you not tell me about that?”

“What made you leave without calling the police?”

“What made you go to that area that day?”

“What made you create that bank account?”

“What made you park the car there?”

Some Final Pointers


Try not to overuse these types of questions.  You don’t want the other person to realise you’re “applying” a questioning technique, as such. Maintain a natural, non-threatening tone.

From today, work on removing “why” from your questioning when you’re attempting to elicit the reason for someone’s behaviour.

Experiment with “what made you” questions in your next exchange.  Let me know how it goes for you in the comments section below.


Happy hunting!


Posted in Blog


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