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Kipling Questions


Techniques > Questioning > Kipling Questions

What | Why | When | How | Where | Who | Assumptive questions | Solving problems | See also


Rudyard Kipling wrote a short poem outlining a powerful set of questions:

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Whenever in doubt as to what to ask, just dip into these questions.


'What?' often asks for noun responses, seeking things that are or will be. They may also prompt for verbs when they seek actions.

'What' questions include:

What are you doing?
What shall we do next?
What happened?
What is stopping you from succeeding?
What is the most important thing to do now?

Three 'Whats' that may be asked in sequence to solve problems are:

What are you trying to achieve?
What is the real problem?
What is the solution?


Asking 'why' seeks cause-and-effect. If you know the reason why people have done something, then you gain a deeper understanding of them. If you know how the world works, then you may be able to affect how it changes in the future.

Asking 'why' seeks logical connections and shows you to be rational in your thinking. It can also be a good way of creating a pause or distraction in a conversation, as many people make assertive statements but without knowing the real 'why' behind those assertions.

A reversal of 'Why' is to ask 'Why not', which is a wonderful creative challenge for stimulating people to think 'outside the box'.

Why questions include:

Why did you do that?
Why did that happen?
Why is it important for us to try it again?
Why not give it a try?


'When' seeks location in time and can imply two different types of time. 'When', first of all, can ask for a specific single time, for example when a person will arrive at a given place or when an action will be completed. 'When' may also seek a duration, a period of time, such as when a person will take a holiday.

When will you be finished?
When will you give me the money?
When are you taking your holiday? (next Summer)


'How' seeks verbs of process. They are hence good for probing into deeper detail of what has happened or what will happen.

How did you achieve that?
How shall we get there?
How will you know she likes you?

'How' may also be used with other words to probe into time and quantity.

How often will you see me?
How much do you owe him?

This can be quite effective for diverting attention away from the real question. For example in the first question above, the attention is on 'how often' and 'seeing me' is assumed.


'Where' seeks to locate an action or event in three-dimensional space. This can be simple space, such as on, above, under, below. It can be regional space, such as next door or in the other building. It can be geographic space, such as New York, London or Paris.

If something is going to be delivered or done, then asking 'Where' is a very good companion to asking 'When', in order to clarify exactly what delivery will take place.

Where will you put it?
Where will they be delivered?


The question 'Who' brings people into the frame, connecting them with actions and things. The 'Who' of many situations includes 'stakeholders', who are all the people with an interest in the action. Key people to identify are those who will pay for and receive the benefits of the action. Of course, you also may want to know who is going to do the work and whose neck is on the line -- that is who is ultimately responsible.

Who is this work for?
Who will benefit most from what you propose?
Who else would be interested?

Assumptive questions

Kipling questions provide a simple method of using assumptive questions that act as if something is true, then hide it in a question:

How much do you care? (assumption: you care)
How will you persuade her? (assumption: you will seek to persuade her)
Where will you buy it? (assumption: you will buy it)
When will you make the change? (assumption: you will make the change)

Solving problems

A simple framework for solving problems may be defined by combining What, Why and How, as follows:

1. What is the problem?
2. Why is it happening?
3. How can you fix it?
4. – Fix it! –
5. Why did it work or not work?
6. What next?

See also

Socratic questioning, Open and Closed questions, Assumptive Close

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