Asking questions is a critical way to find out information. Often, questions are repeated or asked in different ways to obtain more information, to develop clarity, or to confirm information.
Unfortunately, some people use questions incorrectly, which creates an opportunity for misunderstanding, lack of clarity and the incomplete understanding of the information provided. In business, as well as in personal relationships, learning how to be an effective question asker can help to improve communication and decrease the risk of conflict over misunderstandings.
Open and Closed Questions
There are two different types of questions that can be asked. Both are essential, but they also have different roles to play in the exchange of information.
An open question, which is sometimes called an open-ended question, is one that is asking for a detailed answer. These questions cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or one-word answer. Open questions tend to start with the words “what” and” how” and sometimes they may also start with why. It is important to avoid too many “why” questions as they can be seen as challenging and result in more of a defensive rather than an informative answer.
These open questions are great for getting ideas, opinions and the “story” aspect of the answer.
Examples of open-ended questions include:
- What did you think about the movie?
- How would you tackle this problem?
- What challenges do you see in this growth opportunity?
- How could we improve on this process?
Closed questions are the questions that are designed to provide a simple, short answer. The closed questions that would correspond to the open questions above are:
- Did you like the movie?
- Is this a good solution?
- Can this growth opportunity work?
- Is this an effective process?
Closed questions are ideal to hone in on the specific details and verify understanding of the specific information provided. However, they are limited in their ability to get the full picture, which can create misunderstandings with an incomplete exchange of information.
Ideally, when you want information, an open-ended question is the place to start. This allows the individual to share his or her information, ideas, opinions, experience and expertise in detail. Then, using closed questions, you can verify the specific details.
In this structure, you learn a lot of general information and the reason behind the answer provided. Then, with the use of the closed questions, you can ensure you have clarity on the answer, get additional details, and verify your understanding of what is being suggested or recommended.
This is also very comfortable for the person being questioned. He or she is able to work from the general to the specific, which means answers are more focused and informative, ensuring clearer messaging throughout the conversation.