Open questions get their name because the response is open-ended; the answerer has a wide range of options to choose from when answering it.
Open questions use one of six words as a root:
Open questions are like going fishing with a net – you never know what you’re going to get! Open questions are great conversation starters, fact finders, and communication enhancers. Use them whenever possible when communicating with your team.
Closed questions are the opposite of open questions; their very structure limits the answer to yes or no, or a specific piece of information. Some examples include:
- Do you like chocolate?
- Were you born in December?
- Is it five o’clock yet?
Although closed questions tend to shut down communication, they can be useful if you are searching for a particular piece of information from your team, or winding a conversation down.
If you use a closed question and it shuts down the conversation, simply use an open-ended question to get things started again. Here is an example:
- Do you like the Flaming Ducks hockey team?
- Who is your favorite player?
In addition to the basic open and closed questions, there is also a toolbox of probing questions that you can use. These questions can be open or closed, but each type serves a specific purpose.
By probing for clarification, you invite the other person to share more information so that you can fully understand their message. Clarification questions often look like this:
- “Please tell me more about…”
- “What did you mean by…”
- “What does… look like?” (Any of the five senses can be used here)
Completeness and Correctness
These types of questions can help you ensure you have the full, true story. Having all the facts, in turn, can protect you from assuming and jumping to conclusions – two fatal barriers to communication.
Some examples of these questions include:
- “What else happened after that?”
- “Did that end the…”
This category will help you determine how or if a particular point is related to the conversation at hand. It can also help you get the team member back on track from a tangent.
Some good ways to frame relevance questions are:
- “How is that like…”
- “How does that relate to…”
Use these types of questions to nail down vague statements. Useful helpers include:
- “What do you mean by…?”
- “Could you please give an example?”
These questions are framed more like a statement. They pull together all the relevant points. They can be used to confirm to the team member that you heard what was said, and to give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.
Example: “So you picked out a dress, had to get it fitted three times, and missed the wedding in the end?”
Be careful not to avoid repeating the team member’s words back to them like a parrot. Remember, paraphrasing means repeating what you think the team member said in your own words.