‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ This is just one of the habits of highly effective people taken from Stephen R Covey’s book. We primarily ask questions to get information, but questions are also a powerful communication tool to show that we are interested in the other person; that we care about what’s important to them; and that we are trying to understand their situation. So here are the top 10 types of questions and how to use them.
- OPEN questions begin with who, when, where, which, what, why and how. Use these to initiate a conversation, to encourage people to give you information and to clarify situations.
- CLOSED questions will give you a yes or no answer. They begin with verbs: do, can, are, will, have, etc. Use these to check facts, to bring a conversation back to the point or to close a conversation (great for shutting up chatterboxes!).
- SPECIFIC questions are open questions, but you use these when you want a specific answer. They usually contain a number – date, money, quantity, etc. So, When did you buy the product? Whom did you speak to earlier?
- Use PROBING questions to explore the other person’s thoughts and feelings. For example, Tell me about …, Explain why …, Describe …
- CHOICE questions are useful with indecisive people, as they help to move the conversation along. For example, Would you like me to complete this task first or make a start on the report? Aim to give people a choice of only two, otherwise you may confuse or distract them, especially if they are indecisive.
- CLARIFYING questions are used to check that you have understood what the other person is saying and to show that you are listening. To help me understand this better, I would like to clarify the points so far. You’ve said … Clarifying questions can help to build rapport with shy or nervous people, as they will feel that you are listening and understand them.
- LEADING questions can test reactions and relax nervous people. Beware, though, as others may feel you are leading, or even bullying, them. I bet you’re looking forward to next week. You are pleased with what I’ve done, aren’t you?
- Similar to leading questions, ASSUMPTIVE questions assume the answer you want is in the question. I assume you will want this finished by the end of today. Be careful of assumptive questions, though, as they can sound sarcastic or even patronising.
- REFLECTIVE questions help to find out what someone thinks or feels, help to clarify a tricky situation, or encourage others to expand on what they’ve just said. For example, You don’t seem very happy about that? I feel that you are disappointed.
- HYPOTHETICAL questions are good for testing reactions to a possible situation. They always start with ‘if’. If we had to delay delivery, how would that affect you?
A skilful questioner frames a question in their mind before asking the question. This way you truly consider the other person and so have a better understanding of others and the situation you are in.
Judith Di-Castri is a specialist communications consultant at Zee Associates (www.zee-associates.co.uk). She can be contacted on 01825 733621 or firstname.lastname@example.org