There are two types of questions – open and closed questions. Both types of questions are useful in different contexts.
Closed questions can only be answered by yes or no, a single word or number. Closed questions are useful for quick, easy, factual information.
Open questions, on the other hand, invite the speaker to elaborate and direct their attention to a specific aspect of the conversation.
Open questions usually start with words like ‘How?’ ‘What?’ or ‘Tell me about…’.
• What was that like for you?
• How is your new job going?
• Tell me what happened before that?
• What do you want to achieve?
The word ‘Why?’ also begins open questions. For example, ‘Why did you do that?’
However, most people find why questions difficult to answer because why asks the person to explain what was going on underneath. It suggests that simple facts are not good enough and deserve explaining or justifying. Often people hear ‘Why did you do that?” as a judgment about what they did.
How questions get a better response, (for example, ‘How did you do that?’) because they ask for a simple description of what went on, more than a justification.
With open questions you can ask for more specific information or an explanation of what happened. If your open questions focus only on the problems the person has, they will be directed to think more about what’s going wrong. If your open questions focus on the solution they want, the person will think more about what they want to achieve.
Try asking open questions today!