Asking and Listening

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Asking and Listening
Would you call yourself a good listener? Do you know how to turn a statement into a question so that you can confirm what someone is saying to you, without them feeling like they’re being interrogated?
In this lesson, you’ll learn about different types of questions, as well as how to really listen in order to get the message.
Asking Questions
The two most powerful communication skills we have, other than our non-verbal skills, are our abilities to listen and to ask questions. These are the tools we use to overcome our communication barriers, and this may surprise you, but most of us don’t do either of them very well.
First, let’s look at asking questions. There are two main types of questions: closed and open.
Closed Questions
Closed questions are those that can be answered by either “yes” or “no,” or with a specific bit of data, such as your name, date of birth, occupation, etc. These questions restrict our responses and give us little opportunity to develop our thoughts. As a result, they require little effort and can even close down a conversation.
Closed questions tend to be over-used, partially because they require very little effort on the questioner’s part as well. They are easy to phrase and we get quick answers. Unfortunately, such questions also can lead us to assume, and assumptions can be big barriers to good communication.
Open Questions
Open questions, on the other hand, encourage people to talk. These questions are phrased so they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open questions often begin with a variation of the five W’s, (who, what, when, where, why), or can ask how.
Open questions are used to:

  • Get information
  • Focus conversations
  • Solicit opinions
  • Gain consensus

The unintentional use of a closed question can often be overcome by following it with a simple open question. For example:

  • “Do you feel that was the right thing to do?”
  • “Yes, I do.”
  • “Can you help me understand why you feel that way?”

Clarifying Questions
Remember the saying from Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” You will want to gather information from others in order to understand them better. Most of us are better at presenting our own point of view than we are at drawing out information from others.
Here are some useful clarifying questions:

  • What do you think we can do about this?
  • What would you like me to stop doing?
  • Would it be helpful if I…?
  • Supposing we were to…?
  • Can you help me understand where you’re coming from?
  • Can we set a time to discuss the changes we’re both prepared to make?
  • I’m prepared to… Would that ease the situation?