Using different question types effectively

Being able to ask questions and receive the information you need is one of the key communication skills that you need in the work place.

Asking questions is a normal part of communication between colleagues but it’s something that many people take for granted, unaware that by using different question types effectively they could save time, find solutions more easily, complete work more efficiently and improve team working.  However before you can improve your questioning skills you need to be aware of the different types and how you can use them.

Open questions
This type of question is commonly used to encourage the listener to speak and provide information. They often start with why, what, where, which, and how. For example…

“What did you do to keep your team on track?’

‘How would you respond to this customer’s concerns?’ 

Although open questions are good for holding a conversation you still need people who are willing to respond.  

By changing the way you frame open questions you could get more information.  For example if you were an owner of a hotel you might ask a customer for purposes of feedback

“What did you enjoy most about your stay?”

They might reply…

‘Oh the meals were all absolutely delicious’ 

This would be great because you’d have received positive feedback.  However if you asked …

‘What one thing would have made your stay even more enjoyable?’

You might get an answer

‘I loved all the meals they were absolutely delicious but it would have been nice on the evening we went to the theatre we could have dined half an hour earlier’

Still a positive response but by framing the question differently more information was received which would then potentially provide insights into what could be done to improve customer experience. 

Closed questions
This type of question only requires a yes or no answer. These should be used sparingly if you’re trying to find out information from someone as they can make any attempts at a conversation feel awkward and unnatural and can cause people to stop talking.

However, if it’s just a quick yes or no you need this type is the one to use. 

‘Did you remember to clock in this morning?’

Specific questions
You can use this type of question to determine specific facts.

‘How many orders did you take last month?’

Probing questions
This type of question can be used to find out more detail

  ‘Can you walk me through exactly what you did to achieve savings of 20%?’

Often used in interviews where people want to find out more information.  If you use them too much they can make people feel ‘got at’ or ‘interrogated’.

However, the most successful people are very good at asking probing questions because it allows them to dig deep and uncover details that may not have immediately been obvious.

Hypothetical questions
Questions such as  ‘What would you do if…? allow you to gauge how colleagues might act or what they think about a possible situation. They are useful in job interviews or doing some brainstorming among colleagues to find solutions to problems.

Leading questions
This type of question implies that there’s a right answer to the question and is used consciously and unconsciously by people to get the answer they want and influence people’s thinking.  Be aware that if you use leading questions your colleagues later resent you if they realise what has happened.

Judges will always stop barristers using leading questions in court.

Reflective questions
You can use this type of question to check for understanding by reflecting back what someone has just said using their exact words.  They can also useful to reflect a colleagues or customers emotions when they are upset or angry.  This can help to diffuse a difficult situation.

Practice and ask yourself questions

Like all the key communication skills the only way to improve them is through practice and reflection.  When you’re asking a question – think about how much information you’re trying to find out.  If you don’t get a satisfactory answer don’t immediately think that’s the fault of the listener or the recipient – consider what was wrong in the way you asked it and how you could improve in the future.

Whether you’re applying for a new job, have promotion ambitions, are leading up a new team or doing a research project for your company, your ability to ask appropriate questions that can be understood will be key to your success.

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