My Favourite 4-letter Word

There are many great questions such as ‘Will you marry me?’, ‘Does this shirt go with these trousers?’, or ‘Where did I leave my keys?’. At some time or other we have probably asked or been asked these questions or a variation of them. But I have a standout favourite, and it is none of these.


What is great question.


Before you castigate me for omitting the obligatory question mark at the end of the above sentence, let me tell you that it isn’t intended to be a question. It’s a statement. That’s because, for me, the most powerful questions invariably start with ‘what?’


Growing up in a strict and puritanical household has rubbed off on me. Even to this day, I go light on profanity, not because I disapprove of others using colourful language, but because it doesn’t feel right coming out of my mouth. So, when anyone asks me what my favourite four-letter word is, I rather annoyingly answer, ‘what’. Okay, so ‘love’ is a favourite one too, but that would sound cheesy.


Coaches know the power of ‘what’ questions. They are their staple diet and rightly so. There is practically nothing you cannot ask beginning with ‘what?’. In the right hands it is a slick can opener that has at its heart open and genuine enquiry, free of judgment. Unlike its neighbour ‘Why?’, which can easily become interrogative and accusatory, ‘What?’ represents an honest attempt to find the truth. ‘Why did you do that?’’ becomes ‘What did you hope to achieve?’; and ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ becomes ‘What stopped you from telling me?’. The change is subtle but the impact of reframing questions in this way is huge.


When you ask questions that begin with ‘What’, the possibilities are endless, Here are ten examples for you to test out.


What do you want?

What are you feeling?

What was happening around you at the time?

What options do you have?

What are you prepared to take on?

What are you most frightened of?

What excites you most?

What would you choose to do if there were no barriers?

What is your greatest strength?

What will you do about it?


‘How’, ‘why’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ are not wholly redundant question openers but I defy them to be as versatile and eye-opening as What questions. Give it a try and find out for yourself.

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