The right questions

Ask the right questions

Questions are a great tool to unearth what lies beneath the surface in people. But knowing how to ask the right questions can be a huge asset. Learning how to ask questions that encourage people to open up will make you a better interviewer, storyteller or manager.

There are 4 basic types of questions: 1) open ended, 2) probing, 3) clarifying and 4) closed.

Open ended questions are broad questions. The who, what, when, where, why and how we are all familiar with. Be careful not to ask narrow questions. Doing this limits the responses and keeps your interviewee from thinking big picture.

Probing questions add details. It’s adding layers of information to the responses you got through your open ended questions.  It allows you to unearth information. The answers will begin to fill in details. Once you know the basics – the who – you can dig deeper into the story. Drill down into the information and discover what is still hidden.

Clarifying the answers can be very helpful. Ask add-on questions like: “so what will XYZ be doing?” or “how will XYZ effect the next step?” Encourage the dialogue with questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Make sure you have the whole picture.

Finally, closed questions can be useful but they are a last resort. These are the questions that only require yes and no answers.

Want to practice your questioning skills? Have a friend write a secret on a piece of paper. This secret can be something as simple as “My favorite food is spaghetti.” Then ask questions until you can figure out what is on the paper. Make sure you include all four types of questions in the exercise. The more variety of questions you use, the faster you should come to the answer.

Drop a note in the comments and let me know if you tried the exercise and how you did.

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