Imagine you’ve been working on a painting for hours upon hours of your life. You’ve painstakingly thought out every sketch line and brush stroke. You’ve poured your soul into creating this work.
A friend walks into the room while you are working. They love what you are doing and want to show their interest by asking you questions about it. So they ask, “Why did you paint those flowers purple?”
What goes through your mind? Certainly not, “Wow, they really like my painting and want to know more about it!” You are instantly in the throes of self-doubt, thinking, “Oh no, they hate the purple flowers. Should I have made them blue instead? Does this whole thing suck?”
That’s what a lot of artists and creators experience when you throw out “why” questions about their work. Even when questions come from a good place and are intended to show genuine interest, there’s something about the word “why” that triggers fear and worry.
An emerging consensus among psychologists and leadership experts is to replace “why” questions with “what” and “how” questions.
Imagine if your friend had instead asked, “How did you get such deep colors in those trees?” or, “What is your favorite part of the painting so far?” You’d probably feel much less guarded and much more open to discussion about your work.
So the next time you are talking to the creative people in your life (or probably anyone for that matter), think about how you phrase your questions and how they might be perceived. There might not seem to be much difference between the words what, how, and why. But when speaking about something as important as our artwork, it makes all the difference in the world.