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Effective Questioning

There are basically five types of questions you can use to obtain information:
  1. closed
  2. open
  3. leading
  4. probing
  5. clarifying

Closed questions

Closed questions invite a straightforward, factual response – often a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Close questions often begin with the words:
  • Have…
  • Has…
  • Did...
  • Is…

For example:
  • Have those clients responded to our proposal yet?
  • Has Michael submitted his expenses?
  • Did you tell Carol that I need the report for tomorrow?
  • Is there anyone in my office?

Closed questions are best for finding out straightforward, factual information.

Open questions

Open questions cannot be answered with a simple, factual, one-word response. Instead, they invite the listener to carefully consider the question and then respond in detail with their ideas, thoughts, views, suggestions and opinions.

For example:
  • How do you think our proposal was received?
  • How can we speed production without sacrificing quality?
  • What do you suggest we do next?
  • What have you done about it so far?
  • Where do we need to make changes to the system?
  • Where were having the most difficulties?
  • When do you think we should start the new campaign?
  • When can we sign the contract?
  • Who would be the best person to deal with this?
  • Who do you think is most likely to make the first move?

Open questions are best to obtain opinions, ideas, views and suggestions.

Leading questions

Leading questions can be used to gain acceptance and support and are often used in selling situations.

For example:
  • I think this is the best plan, don’t you agree?
  • This is an excellent deal, wouldn’t you say so?

  • I think we need to take action on this – don’t we?
  • I think you’d like to go ahead with this – wouldn’t you?

Leading questions should be used sparingly, and with caution because people on the receiving end of a leading question can often feel pressurized.

How often do you use leading questions?

Probing questions

Probing questions like open ended questions, rely on keywords How, What, Where, When and Who and are usually used to gather information about feeling rather than facts. They encourage the listener to examine and reflect on their underlying feelings and emotions.

For example:
  • How do you feel about your relationship with the rest of the team?
  • What is worrying you about the current situation?
  • Where – in which areas – you consider you have the most difficulty with handling clients?
  • When do you feel these problems first began?
  • Who makes you feel like that?

Probing questions can be effectively used during appraisals, grievance and disciplinary meetings, or when you find yourself managing conflicts which have arisen between people on your team.

Clarifying questions

Clarifying questions should be used at anytime when you don’t understand the message. This happens when the speaker:
  • Uses jargon or unfamiliar words
  • Assumes that the listener knows more than they actually do know
  • Sends a message which is confused, incomplete, jumbled or illogical

Examples of clarifying questions include:
  • I am not sure I’m with you – could you take me through that again?
  • Are you saying that you are not prepared to approve overtime for everyone, or are you just talking about senior staff?
  • It seems that I am hearing you say you want production stepped up online seven straight away, is that right?
  • I want to make sure I’ve got this right - we’re over budget by $ 15000, but you are saying that we can have an additional allocation of $ 20000 without penalties?

Regardless of whether you are sending or receiving the communication it is your responsibility that you:
  • Understand what is said to you
  • Are understood

Excerpts from The University of Leicester Diploma in Management – Resource Development International (RDI) Jamaica.
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