The Right Questions

“What…”

“How…”

Those are the beginning of the right questions.

I’ve always subscribed to the notion that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason (thanks, Dad). Simply put, we should listen twice as much as we speak.

What if we can become better listeners by training ourselves to ask the right questions?

There are 2 types of questions: Open and Closed

Open questions invite the recipient of the question to pause and think, which typically leads to more informative, insightful and thought-provoking answers.

Closed questions ask the recipient to react quickly, typically with a “yes” or “no”.

Think about the last time your friend went on vacation. When they returned, did you ask them “Did you have fun?”, or did you ask “How was your vacation?”. While seemingly the same, they typically will provide very different levels of detail. {Important note: If you’d prefer your friend to not go on for 20 minutes about their Hawaiian vacation while you worked your 9-to-5, which was more like a 7-to-6, I suggest the closed question}.

An open question will invite the recipient to expand. Think of it from a professional standpoint. Imagine you’re speaking with a colleague about an idea. After explaining the idea, you could ask: “Do you think it’s a good idea?” or you could ask “How do you feel about the idea?”. Very subtle, but the 2nd question (How…) is an invitation for your colleague to share more than a simple yes or no. You’ll get more substance, which if you truly care whether your idea has merit, you should be interested in their expanded viewpoint. By asking a closed question, you could be missing out on important feedback that could make your idea stronger or help you avoid pitfalls.

So, how do you do it?

There are a lot of great tips out there, and a simple search would lead you in a lot of promising directions.

My advice: start with your next interaction. Write down 3 open questions you can ask and see where it leads you. Retraining yourself is not easy. We have built decades of habits asking closed questions. If you work at it, you’ll become a better question asker, which will make you a better and more active listener.

Start building the habit, one interaction at a time!

Examples of open questions:

What do you think?

Thoughts?

How do you feel about that?

What would you change?

What would you do?

How would you approach this?

What should we do differently?

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