We spend a lot of our lives asking and answering questions, but we aren’t always aware of how we ask questions. Open questions in particular often give us difficulty, which is unfortunate since they are the most important ones for us to become skilled at using.

Closed questions can be answered with a single word or two or a simple yes or no. They can begin the closing process in a conversation, or provide confirmation of detail, but they don’t usually lead to gathering more information. Where most people need more practice is asking the open question, those where the listener is given a chance to explain, to tell how they feel about an issue, or offer suggestions.

Open questions give us more information because:

  • They encourage other people to talk
  • We get opinions and ideas from others
  • They can help us determine if people have interpreted what we said correctly
  • They can help us arrive at a consensus much more readily

Note: Be very careful about “why” questions. All too often these questions sound like accusations, and the listener immediately becomes defensive.

Relationship building is easier to build if we become skilled at asking questions that give us more information about that person and their wants and needs. Questions help us find common ground with someone, show the person we are interested in them, and puts the emphasis on them rather than us. These are key skills for a facilitator.