Learning to ask effective questions, then, is an essential part of good communication. Questioning is one of the most important skills you can use to improve your relationship with others and to gather information about other people’s concerns. Questioning will help you understand how to get the answers you want so that you can resolve problems, satisfy customers or clients, avoid unnecessary conflict, influence others’ attitudes and behaviors in a positive direction, gain useful feedback on what you’re doing right and wrong — basically, be more persuasive in all walks of life. Questioning effectively will help you accomplish all these things while improving your self-esteem because less time will be spent arguing about which way is best for everyone involved (you’ll already know) and more time spent.
Open and Closed Questions
A closed question usually receives a single word or very short, factual answer. For example, “Are you thirsty?” The answer is “Yes” or “No”; “Where do you live?” The answer is generally the name of your town or your address.
An open question usually receives a lengthy response. For example, “Why are you thirsty?” or “Where do you live?”
Closed Question Open Question: I am hungry. How can I cook this? Where can I buy some lemons? Who told you that? Why would they say that? What’s the best way to cook this fish? How many ways can I cook fish?
Open questions work great when you want to get people talking about what interests them. Because the person has to come up with an answer instead of just saying yes or no, their brain has more time to process what they’re thinking and feeling about something.
This technique is often used in journalism, as it helps to narrow down the responses. For example, you might ask a person “What was your reaction when you first learned of the attack?” and then follow up with funnel questions.
Q: “How did you find out about the attack?”
A: I heard someone screaming outside my house.
Q: “Did you know the victim?”
A: Yes, he went to school with my son.
The last part of this question is a personal connection which could potentially bring up strong emotions for the witness who is being interviewed for this story.
Asking someone a warning question can help open them up to talk about their feelings or opinions on something by making them feel like they’re not the only one who has that particular feeling or opinion.
Q: “You look sad, is something wrong?”
The witness might think you’re trying to trick them into admitting something they don’t want to admit but in reality, you’re just acknowledging the sadness they are displaying on their face and offering them an opportunity to talk about it if they want to.
A lead question is a type of question asked when the interviewer wants to determine facts with precision, accuracy, and authority. This can be done by asking questions where there’s possibility for more than one answer (such as yes/no or offering multiple choice options).
Q: “Was this attack in your area random or was the victim specifically targeted?”
In this situation, you wording is a lead question. This question could have two possible answers: yes and no. The interviewer wants to know if the attack was random or not. You ask a question that allows for either answer but the interviewer still wants to learn what happened so they can come up with a solution to keep it from happening again.