How to ask open ended questions

Your mind is racing. Surely someone’s going to say something? They’ve got to! This is far too painful. Maybe you could say something… but what?

We’ve all felt that hot prickling feeling on the back of our necks when we realize that a conversation is just not happening. But why isn’t the chat flowing?

Well, you could put it down to “we just don’t click”. But the fact is, it’s very possible to have a good conversation even when you don’t “click” with the person you’re talking to. People do it every day.

Doctors, journalists, therapists, business leaders, and more are all forced to build relationships with people they wouldn’t meet up with after work. So how do they do it?

Scour the textbooks, and you’ll find a conversational tool crop up time and time again: open-ended questions.

Here we take a look at what open-ended questions are and how you can use them to keep conversations flowing, even when you run out of things to say.

What Are Open-Ended Questions?

Open-ended questions are those that encourage detailed and considered responses. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the psychologists’ favorite: “How does that make you feel?”.

The opposite of open-ended questions is (you guessed it) close-ended questions. These will typically require one-word responses with little need for expansion.

Benefits Of Open-Ended Questions

Doctors, journalists, and therapists have been utilizing the power of open-ended questions for decades. But for the rest of us, here are four ways in which they will improve your conversations:

They Encourage a More Thoughtful Response

Open-ended questions demand that the respondee consider their thoughts and feelings on the subject.

For example: “How do you feel about last night’s hockey game?” requires the respondee to examine their position on the game. Did they enjoy it? Were they happy with the result? Did they feel it was fair?

They Give You Multiple Areas to Continue the Conversation

Thanks to the in-depth answers required by open-ended questions, you should have a lot more information to use for a follow-up topic. Pick an area that you are comfortable with and run with it.

They Help You Bond with the Respondee

When you ask an open-ended question, you’re essentially challenging that person to open up to you. You’re creating a situation where they need to consider their thoughts and feelings and then show them to you through their response.

This reciprocal sharing of information will undoubtedly bring you closer to the person you’re talking to.

They Require You to Do Less of the Talking

It’s tough (almost impossible) to have a great conversation when you’re the only one blabbing away. Open-ended questions require your conversation partner to talk more, which, in turn, means you can talk less.

Writing in Psychology Today, leadership professor Ronald E Riggio Ph.D. says good conversations need to be balanced. In a two-person dialogue, aim for around 50-50.

Negatives Of Open-Ended Questions

There aren’t a whole load of negatives with open-ended questions, but there are some times when they may not be quite right for the situation.

In a Conversation Where You Need a Straight Answer

sometimes you need an unequivocal response. At work, you might need to know: “Did you send that letter?” for example. Anything other than a “yes” or a “no” would be unhelpful.

When They Are Too Broad

You don’t want to ask an open-ended question that is far too broad. It needs to be closed enough that the respondee doesn’t feel overwhelmed with the scope of the potential answer.

For example, heading into a conversation with someone new at a party and starting with: “What’s your thoughts of the world and its geopolitical situation?” might be a bit too big of an opener.

Start smaller. I find: “Hello, how are you?” works well.

How To Use Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions should be used when you want to expand the conversation and get someone talking. They should be used to understand more about people and to find common interests or at least a point of discussion.

In essence, they can be used in pretty much every area of your life to help develop your relationships. At work, they can help you better understand your co-workers, and at home, it can help you connect with your friends and family more.

You can turn almost any question you like into an open-ended question. Let’s take a look at these two examples.

Option A: Do you like this restaurant?

Option B: What are your thoughts on this restaurant?

You are, essentially, asking a very similar thing.

However, the first question is a close-ended question. The answers you could receive are limited to “yes”, “no”, or any similar variation. So what have you learned about the other person? Not very much at all. Where can you go from there? Not very far.

The second example, on the other hand, is an open-ended question. There is an almost endless possibility of answers you could receive.

Yes, worst case scenario, they could say “not much”, but there are also many other responses they could give, each of which will tell you a little about that person.

Once they have revealed their feelings towards the restaurant, you can start to engage with them on a much deeper level.

Should You Ever Use Close-Ended Questions In A Conversation?

Absolutely. Close-ended questions are fantastic for finding out specific pieces of information about someone. If you already know someone is a baseball fan, you could ask them, “what’s your favorite baseball team?”

The answer may be short, but you can still learn a lot about them from it. Let’s say they reply: “The Chicago Cubs”. It’s a short answer, but there are lots to go off there. If you know something about baseball, you could talk about the team, how their season’s going, etc.

If you don’t follow baseball, there’s still plenty of options to choose from. Asking whether they are from Chicago could be a good route to go down. It steers the conversation away from baseball, but you’ve still gleaned some personal information about them.

Examples Of Open-Ended Questions To Ask In Conversations

If you sometimes struggle to hold down a conversation, then it’s good practice to start increasing the number of open-ended questions you ask.

Typically, they’ll begin with “why”, “how”, or sometimes “what”. Here are a few basic examples that can be used in almost any conversation.

How do you feel about ______?

What was it like in ______?

What were the reasons you chose ______?

How would you describe ______?

What was your experience of ______ like?

Why do you enjoy ______?

What would you do if ______?

How Do You Feel About Trying Open-Ended Questions For Yourself?

All of us will benefit from increasing the number of open-ended questions we ask. They are such a powerful conversation tool that you might almost feel like they are a life-hack of sorts. But they’re not.

You simply turn your questions from closed- to open-ended and all of a sudden you’re a dialogue master.

They can benefit relationships in all areas of your life: personal, romantic, and work. And the best thing of all? No more teeth-achingly horrible situations where no one is saying anything. Just smooth-flowing conversation.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to ask open ended questions

If you’ve ever been in therapy, you have probably noticed that your therapist asks a lot of vague questions. In fact, this has even become a source of humor in pop culture. Bob Newhart’s famous question, “How did that make you feel?” has become a standard way to lampoon therapy.

But open-ended questions are not only a useful tool in therapy, they are also a good way to start conversations in day-to-day life. Learn the value of these seemingly vague kinds of questions.

Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions

Most therapists are trained to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are ones that allow you to provide whatever amount of detail you want, rather than simply answering “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions encourage you to share relevant material about your life, your way of thinking, and your beliefs.  

Consider the following sentences:

  1. Do you have a good relationship with your parents?
  2. Tell me about your relationship with your parents.

The material covered is identical, but the answers will likely be very different. The first question is a closed-ended question. The expected reply is “yes” or “no.” If a therapist asks that question and gets one of those answers, the ball is back in the therapist’s court to encourage a fuller response. With a closed-ended question, a client may choose to say more, but often they do not.

There is another important difference between these two sentences. Number one is a leading question. It introduces the idea of “good” into the client’s consciousness. This is not a particularly troubling example of a leading question, but consider a question like, “Did your father sexually abuse you?” Due to the fact that this question may prompt a certain answer, therapists generally avoid asking ones like that.

One pitfall to avoid is when your open-ended question is actually closed-ended. Sometimes you craft a question that is complicated and seems to you to be open-ended, but in fact, can result in an answer that is basically yes-or-no.  

Types of Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are likely to feature the typical “who, what, where, when, why, and how” used in good journalism. These questions draw out different kinds of responses that can be useful for a therapist.

  • Who: Elicits insight into relationships
  • What: Most often leads to facts
  • Where: Enables discussion about the place the environment took place
  • When: Brings about the timing of a problem, including what happened immediately before and after it
  • Why: Most often brings about reasons
  • How: Enables a person to talk about feelings and/or processes

The proper tone of voice is important when asking any question, specifically when asking “why” questions. Starting a question with “why” can seem accusatory and cause a person to respond defensively. Using a non-judgemental tone can prevent this response.

9 Questions Therapists Commonly Ask

Every therapist is different, as are the approaches they may use. These are some common questions therapists may ask at your first appointment:

  • What brings you here today?
  • Have you ever seen a counselor/therapist/psychologist before?
  • What do you see as being the biggest problem?
  • How does this problem make you feel?
  • What makes the problem better?
  • What positive changes would you like to see happen in your life?
  • In general, how would you describe your mood?
  • What do you expect from the counseling process?
  • What would it take for you to feel happier or more at peace?

Using Open-Ended Questions in Daily Life

Therapists aren’t the only ones who benefit from using open-ended questions. Anyone can use open-ended questions in their daily life. The truth is, you’re much more likely to get a conversation flowing and connect with people when you ask open-ended versus close-ended questions.  

If you are talking with someone you don’t know very well, ask them open-ended questions. In fact, if you think of a question with a yes-or-no answer, see if you can change it into a more open-ended version and ask that instead. The conversation will likely move along more easily, and you will get to know that person on a deeper level.

Do you like your job?

Are you an only child?

Did you like living there?

What’s on your mind?

Why did you choose this field?

Tell me about your family.

What was it like living there?

A Word From Verywell

Open-ended questions are not meant to be vague, evasive, or annoying. Rather, they are your therapist’s way of getting to know you, like what makes you tick, what you think, what bugs you, what you love, and how they can best help you.  

How to ask open ended questions

Broad, open-ended sales questions are great for helping you find out what’s going on in your prospects’ and clients’ worlds. They are essential to sales success. In fact, “listened to me” and “understood my needs” are two of the top five factors most separating sales winners from second-place finishers.

Sales questions also help you connect with buyers personally, understand what’s important to them, reshape their thinking, and create better futures for them. The importance of asking the right sales questions cannot be understated. (Hint: you need to ask more than “what keeps you up at night?”)

Following are 21 open-ended sales questions you can use that will help you complete the picture of your clients’ needs. These questions can be separated into four categories:

  • Rapport
  • Aspirations and Afflictions
  • Impact
  • New Reality

These four categories are the core of the RAIN Selling SM Framework.

One thing to note about open-ended sales questions: they don’t need to be complex. Oftentimes the basics are all you need. I share some ideas for open-ended sales questions in the video below.

21 Powerful, Open-Ended Sales Questions

Rapport

These questions help you build and strengthen genuine connections and trust with the buyer, setting the table for the rest of the conversation:

1. What’s going on in your business these days? How have things changed?

2. What are your plans for this weekend?

3. It was good to hear the short version of your background at the meeting, but since we’re out for lunch and have the time, I’d love to get the long version. What’s your story?

4. I have to say, I really like the way you not only have your company values up on the wall, but also comments from your team about what the values mean to them. How did you come up with that? I’m guessing you learned a lot about your company and team. Anything stand out?

5. You mentioned you want to retire in a few years. What are you thinking of doing then?

Aspirations and Afflictions

A lot of sales advice only focuses on the pain, leaving half the potential needs still uncovered. It’s important to know what’s holding the buyer back and it’s equally as important to find out where they want to go. These sales questions focus on uncovering both the buyer’s pain (afflictions) and their goals (aspirations):

6. Why isn’t this particular technology/service/product/situation/issue working for you right now?

7. Many of our clients are reporting problems with areas A, B, and C. How are these areas affecting you? What do you think about them?

8. What’s holding you back from reaching your revenue/profit/other goals?

9. What goals and objectives do you have in general? For this area?

10. (Assuming the buyer set the meeting) Why did you ask me to talk with you today?

11. (Assuming you set the meeting) As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to share with you a few ideas that have helped our clients succeed in the X, Y, and Z areas. Before we get going, what else might you like to cover by the time we’re done with this meeting? What will make this meeting successful for you?

Impact

The following questions focus on how working with you is going to improve your buyer’s world:

12. If you could overcome these challenges, what would happen to your company’s financial situation?

13. If you were to make this happen, what would it mean for you personally?

14. How would implementing these changes affect your competitiveness in the market?

15. How do you think the Board of Directors would evaluate the success of this initiative?

16. If you don’t solve (insert the particular challenge here), what kind of difficulties will you face going forward? What won’t happen that you want to happen?

New Reality

These questions enable you to paint a picture for the buyer of where they want to be and how working with you can get them there:

17. If you were to wave your magic wand and fast-forward to 3 years from now, how will this all look different?

18. (In early sales discussions) You mentioned you’re not having a great experience with your current provider. If you work with us, what are you hoping will be different?

19. (In later sales discussions) Given all we’ve talked about, what do you see as being different if we were to move forward together?

20. What does success look like for you… your business…this project…our work together?

21. If there were no restrictions on you—money, effort, political issues, and so on—what would you change? Can you tell me why you say that?

As you prepare to ask any open-ended sales questions, bear in mind that the most difficult task is not sounding too contrived. While we’ve suggested wording here in this article, feel free to use the concepts, but make the wording your own when you ask the questions.

For more questions like these, download our free guide, 50 Powerful Sales Questions.

Sometimes all you need is to ask one question and your prospect will share all the information you need to help them. Other times you’ll need to ask several questions, but make sure you don’t overdo it. You don’t want to make your prospect feel as if he’s on the witness stand.

This article is about asking questions, but don’t forget that the most powerful sales conversations tend to balance inquiry (asking questions) with advocacy (talking, educating, giving advice).

Additional tip: If the buyer answers a question and you want them to expand further, ask them, “How so?” or, “Can you tell me a little more about that?” You’ll be surprised at just how much you can learn, and the difference it will make in your ability to help them succeed.

How to ask open ended questions

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6 kinds of open ended questions you should ask your preschooler

Posted on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:30 AM

How to ask open ended questions

What’s an open-ended question?

[quote author_name=”Jenni Rice” author_description=”Director & Owner” author_image=”https://www.halseyschools.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Jenni-Rice-Owner-Director.jpg” size=”small” style=”solid”]

Questions that have more than one right answer, or ones than can be answered in many ways, are called open‐ended or divergent questions. This way of asking questions stimulates more language use, acknowledges that there can be many solutions to one problem, affirms children’s ideas, and encourages creative thinking. [/quote]

Listening to your child’s answers is even more important than asking the open-ended questions

  • Wait 5-10 seconds for your child to think and formulate responses.
  • Allow your child to fully answer the question without interruption.
  • Show that you are interested your child’s answers.
  • Keep the conversation going until your child gives you clues to move on.

Six types of open-ended questions we ask at school.

You should try them out at home too.

Open-ended Knowledge Questions

  • What happened when…?
  • What happened before/after…?
  • What did it look/feel/sound/taste/smell like?
  • What do you remember from…?
  • Describe what you know about…
  • Tell me about your…
  • Name all of your favorite _____.
  • What did you use to make it?
  • List everything you think you might find in…
  • Describe to me _____ (block structure, etc.) and how you made it.

Open-ended Comprehension Questions

  • Why do you think…?
  • Which one do you have more/less of?
  • How can you tell the difference between _______ and ______?
  • Can you give me an example of ______?
  • How do you know that…?
  • What happened first, second, third, etc.?
  • Tell me what happened…
  • How could you say that differently?
  • Name some… (shapes, animals, vegetables, etc.).

Open-ended Application Questions

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Tell me how you would make/build…
  • What does this make you think of?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • How can we organize these?
  • How can we/you find out?
  • Show me what you could do with it.
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What do you think will happen if…?
  • How else would/could you…?

Open-ended Analysis questions

  • Why is this important?
  • In what ways are these different/similar?
  • What do you think will happen?
  • How much/many _______ will we need to …?
  • Is there anything that you would change? If so, why?
  • Why do you think…?
  • What comes next in the pattern of_______?
  • What could we do differently next time?
  • Did that ever happen to you? Tell me more about that.

Open-ended Evaluation Questions

  • What other ideas do you have to add?
  • What other ending to the story can you come up with?
  • How will you organize______?
  • What else could you do/use?
  • How will you prepare for…?
  • What could we have done instead?
  • What’s one solution to the problem?
  • How could you assemble these _______ to make _________?
  • Tell me how you will… (draw your picture, make your city out of blocks, etc.)

Open-ended Creating Questions

  • What changes would you make to…?
  • How many ways can you…?
  • Why did you choose… (those materials, that order, etc.)?
  • How could we make the/this_____ (stronger, better, etc.)?
  • How will you make a new… (design, pattern, etc.)?
  • Why do you think it is important to…?
  • Rank these______ according to ________.
  • How are you planning to do that?

Now it’s time for you to start asking some questions! ?

Give your survey results more context and color

What type of data are you looking for in your survey?

It’s an important question to ask.

Do you want your responses to be exact, quantifiable, and predictable? Or do you want responses with more depth and color but less structure?

Usually you’ll want to strike a balance between the two.

Multiple choice questions are great for getting quantitative data, but giving your respondents the freedom to answer your question in their own words can offer information you hadn’t considered before.

It can also help explain or personalize some of the trends you’re tracking, helping you see your data in a different light.

For example, let’s say you want to learn more about your respondents. It’s easy to use closed-ended questions to get demographic information like age, sex, or race. But what happens if you ask for the same information in a different way?

“Tell me about yourself.”

Chances are, asking this will get you something more interesting than basic demographic information. That’s the advantage of open-ended questions—they collect data that you can’t get any other way.

The example above probably can’t replace the standard demographic questions, but it might be a great complement to get a more colorful picture of your respondents.

The basics of open-ended questions

So what are open-ended questions?

So what are open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions ask people to provide answers in their own words and are designed to elicit more information than is possible in a multiple choice or other closed-ended format.

Writing a good open-ended question is a tricky balancing act: It should elicit the respondents to answer with useful information, but also give them the freedom to respond as they choose.

If you’re conducting a survey, you’re interested in hearing about your individual respondents’ opinions and experiences. A lot of this important information can be collected through multiple choice questions or drop-down questions, in which respondents select the response that most closely aligns with their own from a set of options.

These questions are great when you want to collect qualitative or quantitative data that you can aggregate and analyze, like when you’re tallying the percentage of your respondents who are men and women or who fall in different age ranges.

But maybe the questions you’re asking don’t have responses that fit neatly into a set of categories. What if you want to give your respondents a chance to offer feedback, to explain their responses to previous questions, or just to vent? If that’s the case, you’ll need to use an open-ended response question.

For example, this Market Research Template starts with several open-ended questions that ask customers to list specific things they like and changes they would like to see:

  • What do you like most about our new product?
  • What changes would most improve our product?

Or, notice how this Neighborhood Events Survey template uses an open-ended question as a follow-up to a closed-ended question.

1. How often do you attend events in this neighborhood?

  • Extremely often
  • Quite often
  • Moderately often
  • Slightly often
  • Not at all often

2. If you do not attend events in this neighborhood, why not?

You probably won’t be able to compile results from open-ended questions into charts or statistics, but you will be able to read through your responses to learn more about your respondents. If some responses come up again and again, you can use a word cloud to display those results.

In general, it’s best to ask the most essential questions in multiple choice format for easy analysis, then use open-ended questions to get more detail or color.

Usually, your multiple choice questions will be intentionally narrow in scope (e.g. “What is your age?” “What is your race?”), while your open-ended questions will have more room for interpretation (e.g. “Tell me about yourself.”).

What are some benefits to using open-ended questions?

Your respondents will usually surprise you. Even if you think you’ve written an effective survey that will collect all the important information, asking one last open-ended question may still reveal something novel.

Similar to offering an “Other” option for a multiple choice question, providing at least one open-ended question in your survey will help you cover all your bases. Your respondents might think of something that you didn’t!

Letting people answer in their own words can be empowering. Give your respondents the opportunity to really express themselves—to complain about a bad experience they had or to praise a good one—and they’ll be grateful.

Everyone likes to know that their opinions are valued; after all, that may be why they’re taking the survey in the first place.

What are some limitations of open-ended questions?

They’re hard to analyze. If you’re planning on compiling your results into tables or charts, you should not rely on open-ended questions.

You’ll end up having to manually code each response, a process that is time-consuming and potentially biasing. Instead, consider open-ended questions as complements to the multiple choice or other questions that form the core part of your survey.

They’re not mobile-optimized. Any question requiring a text response is difficult to answer on a smart phone or tablet. Open-ended questions are particularly challenging because they are looking for long responses of several sentences or paragraphs. That’s just too much to type on a small screen.

Too many can hurt your response rate. Taking the time to thoroughly answer an open-ended question might not sound like much, but it’s not easy to read an unexpected question, think through your opinions, and come up with a coherent response right on the spot.

Asking too many open-ended questions can tire or frustrate your respondents, making them likelier to get lazy with their responses or even drop out of the survey altogether. Be selective with your use of open-ended questions.

Final recommendations

Always keep in mind that specific kind of data that you’re looking to get from your survey will determine the types of questions that you ask.

The best surveys use a variety of question types to get lots of different data. Whether you’re asking customers for feedback on your business or doing a survey of your neighbors, you’ll likely want to include both closed and open ended questions. Use closed-ended questions to get the facts and figures you’ll need for your analysis, then follow up with open-ended questions to fill in the details.

6 kinds of open ended questions you should ask your preschooler

Posted on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:30 AM

How to ask open ended questions

What’s an open-ended question?

[quote author_name=”Jenni Rice” author_description=”Director & Owner” author_image=”https://www.halseyschools.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Jenni-Rice-Owner-Director.jpg” size=”small” style=”solid”]

Questions that have more than one right answer, or ones than can be answered in many ways, are called open‐ended or divergent questions. This way of asking questions stimulates more language use, acknowledges that there can be many solutions to one problem, affirms children’s ideas, and encourages creative thinking. [/quote]

Listening to your child’s answers is even more important than asking the open-ended questions

  • Wait 5-10 seconds for your child to think and formulate responses.
  • Allow your child to fully answer the question without interruption.
  • Show that you are interested your child’s answers.
  • Keep the conversation going until your child gives you clues to move on.

Six types of open-ended questions we ask at school.

You should try them out at home too.

Open-ended Knowledge Questions

  • What happened when…?
  • What happened before/after…?
  • What did it look/feel/sound/taste/smell like?
  • What do you remember from…?
  • Describe what you know about…
  • Tell me about your…
  • Name all of your favorite _____.
  • What did you use to make it?
  • List everything you think you might find in…
  • Describe to me _____ (block structure, etc.) and how you made it.

Open-ended Comprehension Questions

  • Why do you think…?
  • Which one do you have more/less of?
  • How can you tell the difference between _______ and ______?
  • Can you give me an example of ______?
  • How do you know that…?
  • What happened first, second, third, etc.?
  • Tell me what happened…
  • How could you say that differently?
  • Name some… (shapes, animals, vegetables, etc.).

Open-ended Application Questions

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Tell me how you would make/build…
  • What does this make you think of?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • How can we organize these?
  • How can we/you find out?
  • Show me what you could do with it.
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What do you think will happen if…?
  • How else would/could you…?

Open-ended Analysis questions

  • Why is this important?
  • In what ways are these different/similar?
  • What do you think will happen?
  • How much/many _______ will we need to …?
  • Is there anything that you would change? If so, why?
  • Why do you think…?
  • What comes next in the pattern of_______?
  • What could we do differently next time?
  • Did that ever happen to you? Tell me more about that.

Open-ended Evaluation Questions

  • What other ideas do you have to add?
  • What other ending to the story can you come up with?
  • How will you organize______?
  • What else could you do/use?
  • How will you prepare for…?
  • What could we have done instead?
  • What’s one solution to the problem?
  • How could you assemble these _______ to make _________?
  • Tell me how you will… (draw your picture, make your city out of blocks, etc.)

Open-ended Creating Questions

  • What changes would you make to…?
  • How many ways can you…?
  • Why did you choose… (those materials, that order, etc.)?
  • How could we make the/this_____ (stronger, better, etc.)?
  • How will you make a new… (design, pattern, etc.)?
  • Why do you think it is important to…?
  • Rank these______ according to ________.
  • How are you planning to do that?

Now it’s time for you to start asking some questions! ?

15 November 2016 by Tammy Lenski

Watch a good mediator at work and you’ll likely notice that good questions are her stock-in-trade. Watch a masterful negotiator and you’ll see the same. If you want better conflict resolution results, learn how to ask questions that shift thinking and prompt fresh ideas.

Marty Cooper, a young engineer at Motorola, had a new assignment: Lead the team that would build the next generation of car radiotelephones. It was the early 1970s and car telephones looked like they could become the next big advancement in telephone technology.

But Cooper didn’t just roll up his sleeves and get to work on the assignment given him.

Instead, he stepped back and asked a question: Why is it that when I want to call a person, I have to call a place?

That question changed not just telephony, but the world. After a century of telephones attached to wires, the two finally became untethered. On April 3, 1973, Cooper stood on Sixth Avenue in New York City and placed the first cell phone call in history. (Source)

The power of good questions for conflict resolution

When faced with a problem, it’s tempting to tell people what to do. It feels efficient and makes us feel important and useful. In emergencies, this is not necessarily a bad approach.

But if the goal is understanding and discovering not-yet-visible solutions and opportunities, telling will not help you reach it. If the goal is real buy-in and commitment to a solution, telling doesn’t work very well. With goals like these, you can lead the discovery of better solutions and influence lasting outcomes by learning to ask good questions in the right way and at the right time.

During conflict, good questions have great power:

  • They help you get information you’re missing — information that can lead to solutions you could not have imagined.
  • They invite deeper reflection about vexing problems — reflections that push you past pet solutions and obvious ideas that won’t do much for vexing problems.
  • They spark insight and creative thinking — the kinds of insights that enable new solutions and that make invisible options visible.
  • They break you out of old molds — the kinds of molds that aren’t doing the job and leave you in that hopeless place mediators label “impasse.”
  • They enable curiosity to replace certainty — an essential shift for the kind of problem-solving necessary when the usual solutions just aren’t working.

Learning how to ask questions fruitfully

Learning to ask questions that are useful at the right time is very learnable, though it takes practice. Here are some guidelines I’ve found useful in teaching mediators to ask better questions:

Ask one question at a time. This seems obvious, but watch television news interviews and you will see how frequently it isn’t done. Don’t fill the space, don’t blather on, don’t ask three questions when one good one will do.

Listen to the answer! It is important not to listen with your answer running; you don’t want to miss the answer because you’re inside your head. If you asked a question because you believe it has merit, then don’t waste it by missing the reply.

Don’t fill the silence. When you’ve asked a very good question, the other person may well need time to process it and consider their reply. This is a good thing! Good questions deserve good answers, so stay out of their way and let them think.

Ask the thing you really want to know. When I am teaching new and even experienced mediators to ask elegant questions, I will often hear a question that seems to beat around the bush. I’ll ask the mediator, What is it that you really want to know? and they’ll tell me very clearly. It is often not the question they asked and equally often, it is the question they really should have asked. It is possible to be kind and direct and clear all at the same time.

Try not to rely on a question queue. When you’re learning to ask good questions, it is tempting to jot down a series of things you want to ask and then work through those questions. This is a mistake. First, your conversation will start to sound more like an interrogation than an exploration, and this may put people off. More importantly, what you do or say next is born from their reply to your good question. You cannot know what your next question or response should be until you listen fully to what they’ve said. If you are curious enough, you will not be at a loss for good questions. If you fear you will not know the next right thing to say if you don’t have questions queued up, practice at home at the dinner table or at work at the lunch table. When you relax into it, it isn’t difficult.

Be transparent. Don’t try to hide the intention behind your question, though do try to have intent that isn’t manipulative. If you are wondering something inside your head, consider asking it. I find myself wondering… is language I find very honest and useful in moments like this.

Avoid multiple choice and run-on questions. They confuse and convolute. I’ve noticed that run-on questions tend to surface when the asker is nervous, so practice asking a simple, clear question and then stopping yourself. Multiple choice questions assume you know all the options — and you probably don’t. Don’t limit the response possibilities.

Avoid leading questions. Leading questions aren’t good questions; they’re statements or your solution masquerading as questions. They’re not artful and they come off as manipulative, degrading the discussion.

Remember that close-ended questions have use sometimes. We tend to value open-ended questions (questions that have multiple possible answers) over close-ended questions (questions that usually have one possible answer). That’s not a bad rule of thumb, but sometimes close-ended questions fill in a much-needed tidbit.

Timing is important. A wonderful question asked at the wrong time may yield little. They may not be ready to answer it, they may not trust you yet with the answer, they may not know the answer yet. I’ve found that the best way to develop good timing for good questions is to practice and be patient — your ability will improve with experience. And even then, you will not always get the timing right. People are complex.

See if you can figure out the missing question you haven’t thought to ask. You don’t have to be omnipotent. Sometimes they have the better question or the missing one and that is a very good thing. What question haven’t I asked can be very useful.

Open-Ended Questions; we use them everyday, so should you.

Posted on Apr 23, 2020 at 11:59 AM

How to ask open ended questions

What’s an open ended question?

Questions that have more than one right answer, or ones than can be answered in many ways, are called open‐ended or divergent questions. This way of asking questions stimulates more language use, acknowledges that there can be many solutions to one problem, affirms children’s ideas, and encourages creative thinking.

Open‐ended questions open up conversations

When you ask an open‐ended question, you don’t know what your child’s answer is going to be. Close‐ended questions usually limit conversation to a one or two word response, and sometimes they end the conversation. Examples:

Close‐ended question: “What color is this?”
Open‐ended question: “You used a lot of blue on your painting. What does it remind you of?”

Close‐ended question: “How many teddy bears are on the block?”
Open‐ended question: “What are those teddy bears thinking about?”

Close‐ended question: “What’s your doll’s name?”
Open‐ended question: “Your baby is so beautiful! Tell me about her.”

Children must have a high level of verbal skills to respond to open‐ended questions. Since open-ended questions have a wide‐range of possible answers, children are able to respond only if they have a fairly high level of verbal skills, vocabulary, and self‐confidence. If your child has limited verbal skills, use self-talk & parallel-talk, repetition, extension, or ask a close‐ended question.

The success of open‐ended questions depends on how you understand your child’s interest or focus. You may be used to asking questions aimed at assessing how much your child knows (about color, number, shape or alphabet) and may find it difficult at first to ask engaging questions with no right answer. Close‐ended questions usually end conversations. Open‐ended questions that are too general or unfocused may be difficult for your child to respond to and may also end the conversation.

Here’s an example: Your child has been using fingerpaint, mixing together orange, blue, and yellow. You say:

Close‐ended question:
“What colors are you using?” Child: “Orange.”

General open‐ended question:
“Tell me about what you are doing.” Child: “Mixing colors.”

Targeted open‐ended question:
“Wow! How did you get this color? What did you do first?” Child: “First I stuck my hand in the blue paint, then I stuck my other hand in the orange paint. I made the paint squeeze through my fingers. It felt yucky. Then it started changing colors!”

Open‐ended questions that are challenging can develop your child’s thinking skills: Challenging children by posing thought‐provoking, open‐ended questions that are rich and clear can stimulate and push at the edges of your child’s development. These questions are often expressed in conditional form “What will happen if you…?”

Types of open‐ended questions that are challenging include:

  • Making predictions ‐What do you think will happen if you keep adding blocks to your tower?
  • Stretching thinking What would happen if there were no cars, trucks, buses, planes, or boats?How would we get around?
  • Considering consequences ‐What would happen if you left your drawing outside and it rained?
  • Assessing feelings How would you feel if that happened to you? How do you think Juan feels?
  • Thinking about similarities and differences ‐How are these two blocks the same? What makesthese things go together?
  • Applying knowledge to solve a problem ‐What could you do to keep the paint from dripping onthe floor?
  • Evaluating ‐What made you decide to pick this book to read? How did this make you feel?

Try using these open ended questions with your preschoolers at home to get started:

Tell me about…
How do you know that…?
What do you think…?
Show me how you…
I wonder why…
Can you tell me more about why…
How did you…
Why did you…
How do you know?
What did you do first?
What can you tell me about…
Can you think of another way…
What do you think?

What do you think would happen if…
What could you do instead?
How did you do that?
What does it remind you of?
What can you do next time?
Tell me what happened.
What do you call the things you’re using?
How are you going to do that?
Is there anything else you could use?
What is it made of?
What do you think will happen next?
What could be added?
What else can this be used for?