Jackie Kellso

Asking the Right Question: Closed-Ended or Open-Ended?

In asking questions, closed-ended questions, communicating, communication, communication skills, communications between generations, conflict resolution, connecting with people, dealing with a difficult coworker, delegating, diplomacy and tact, disagree agreeably, disagreements, effective communicating, employee engagement, engagement, How to Win Friends and Influence People, human relations, human relations principles, improve communication, interpersonal skills, interview questions, interviewing skills, managing conflict, negativity at work, negotiating, open-ended questions, person to person dynamics, professional behavior, professional development, sharing information, yes or no on November 21, 2015 at 5:01 pm

As busy professionals we try to save time by asking others quick questions.  Yes or No. In and Out. Move on.  Well, unfortunately, this sometimes backfires and shuts down a healthy conversation or the sharing of very important information, and can create negative reactions from others.

As an example, I have to let my clients tell me what they need, rather than assume.  Here’s a sample:

Wrong way:

Me: “Would you like to learn a better way of communicating?”

You: “No, thanks for asking.”

Right way:

Me: “In what ways would you like to improve your communication?”

You: “Well, I’d like to be able to get people to open up; to get them more engaged.”

Me: “Thank you for sharing.  Can you give me an example of what has happened in the past that makes this important to you?”

This is the difference between asking closed-ended questions and open-ended questions.  So many people fall into the pit of non-responsiveness by asking a question that will yield a yes or no answer, when in fact, by asking an open-ended question it can provoke thinking, participation and engagement.

There are times when a closed-ended question makes sense:

Are you hungry?

Are you ready to talk about your raise? 

Would you like to work from home one day a week?

Do you think we got the business?

The difference is this: when professionals are looking to deepen the context of a conversation, learn more from customers or colleagues; share ideas, motivate others, discover the sources of problems, it’s a good idea to know how to engage through open-ended questioning.

This is especially so when in conflict.  We use this tool to remain calm and composed.

Closed-ended:

You: “Do you want to talk this out?”

Other: “NO!”

Open-ended:

You: “Help me understand how you came to that conclusion.  What did I say that, in your words, seems unfair?”

Other: “You gave Ellen more time to explain her point of view than you gave me.”

You: “Ah,  I wasn’t aware, thank you for telling me. Okay, what did I not give you the opportunity to share?  It’s important to me to hear what you have to say.”

Imagine gently tossing a ball back to the other person, whose turn it is to hit the ball.  Be prepared to give recognition and consideration of the other person’s feelings at the same time.

Closed-Ended:

You: “The client called to say he’s unhappy with the outcome of the project.  Did you hear that too?”

Other:  “Yes, but it wasn’t my fault.”

Open-Ended:

You: “The client called to say he’s unhappy with the outcome of the project.  What do you imagine happened? I know how much time and effort you put into it.”

Other:  “I’m really disappointed.  I’m not sure what went wrong. I felt embarrassed to ask him directly.”

You:  “I can understand.  Let’s see if we can learn more so we can fix this. We have some options. You can call and ask him why he had this reaction and what we can do to fix the problem, or I can jump on the call with you to support you.  Which would you prefer?”

People love options.  When asking open-ended questions also give them some autonomy, as above.

Yes, this questioning technique slows us down and we have so much to do!  From my experience, the clarity and connection make it worth the effort. Practice asking open-ended questions and see what happens! Then you at least have the tool when you think it will produce the right results.

Happy questioning,

Jackie

Copyright, PointMaker Communications, Inc., 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jackie Kellso and PointMaker Communications, Inc., with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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