The unintentional use of a closed question can often be overcome by simply following it with a short open question. For example:
Here is an example of a closed question:
Replacing it with an open question provides us with more information:
The first question will only tell us whether the person likes ice cream or not. That’s a closed situation. The second question will let us know a little bit about the person. It could also lead to follow up questions depending on their answer. Questions that are open ended will help us learn more about the people we speak with, establish things that we have in common, develop rapport, and make meaningful connections.
It is possible for you to ask someone an open question and for them to be evasive or try to shut the conversation down. Children are famous for this when a parent says, “What did you learn at school today?” and they reply, “Nothing.” One of your team members may come see you after a meeting, and you say,” How’d the meeting go?” and they say, “Fine.” If you want to engage them, you’ll have to ask a follow up question. Some examples:
There are several different types of open-ended questions. We can ask leading questions to influence how people think (“Don’t you just love the way vanilla ice cream smells?”). Rhetorical questions are ones that we don’t really want an answer to, such as “Do I look like I care?” Rhetorical questions can be used to engage your conversation partner and make them think about the obvious answer. (They may also be something that you blurt out because you are thinking out loud!) A rhetorical question can engage the listener in a persuasive manner as they process your ideas.
Probing questions can also help you to investigate in more detail.
Many people are better at presenting their own point of view than they are at drawing out information from others. Your role as a good communicator is to draw out information from the individual that will help you understand the issue. A good name for this skill of gathering information from others is probing.
When you probe, you:
There are five ways to probe.
One of the most common ways of probing is to ask an open question, such as:
The difficulty here is that if you ask too many of these probing questions, the other person begins to feel like they are being interrogated. Be thoughtful about what and how you ask. Consider how many probes you really need to offer.
A second, very effective way of probing is a pause. Stop talking. Let the other person fill the silence.
A third way is to ask a reflective or mirroring question. For example, let’s say the person has just said, “What I really want is more variety in my work.” You may respond by just reflecting back to them, “Variety?” The reflective question usually provides you with an expanded answer without you needing to ask more questions. Of course, it is best used in conjunction with a pause.
Reflective questions or statements focus on clarifying and summarizing without interrupting the flow of the conversation. They indicate your intent to understand the sender’s thoughts and feelings.
A fourth method that is particularly useful to make certain you understand what has just been said is paraphrasing in your own words. An example: “So if I understand you correctly, you…”
You can use this response to show that you want to increase the accuracy of your understanding of what has just been said. You may also want to use it to ensure the sender hears what he has just said. Finally, paraphrasing reassures the sender that you are trying to understand what they are saying.
The last method, most often used as a conversation is winding down, is the summary question. Example: “You have tried ignoring the scent of your colleague’s cologne, you have talked with him about how it affects your allergies, and you have tried shutting your door to keep the scent from your workspace. None of these has worked and now you are asking me to intervene. Have I got it right?”
Pushing My Buttons
Pick one of the following statements: