In Qualitative Focus Groups,
Don’t Ask the Word “Why”

Here’s a moderating tip.

Avoid using the word why, in qualitative focus groups or depth interviews.

Why not use why?

The word why triggers defensive reactions. It’s annoying. It’s rude. It threatens.

The word why thwarts conversation. It clamps people up. It sounds like an accusation.

During a customer interview or focus group, you work hard to get respondents to relax. You want them to open up and tell their story about your products or service.

When respondents are relaxed and feeling comfortable, they’ll talk more. When respondents are uptight, they don’t talk much.

When you are confronted with the word why, a large assortment of negative associations pop up…including negative emotions.

What do you feel when someone confronts you with why?

Why is what your teachers, coaches, and parents asked you. The boss pesters you with why. An angry person asks why. A nagging spouse asks why.

“Why did you do this?”

“Why did you do that?”

“Why didn’t you listen to me?”

“Why did you buy that?”

Do you hear the tone?

You don’t want an interview sounding like an interrogation. And you don’t want to antagonize customers.

Seek Why

Yet, you seek to understand why. Understanding why is the goal of qualitative marketing research.

So how do you get to why without using the word why?

You ask indirectly. Here are some ways to ask why.

“What are the reasons for…?”

“I don’t understand…help me out.”

“What made you do that?”

“What really happened?”


“Could you please explain more?”

Also, you listen for why in the conversation. If your respondents answers why, without your asking, all the better.

Also, look for why explanations in the conversation transcripts. Derive it…deduce it.

Seek why, but don’t use why. You’ll get more information.

In qualitative focus groups or depth interviews, skip the word why.

And you won’t antagonize your customer or prospect. Or your family, friends, and colleagues.

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