How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Open and Closed Questions
These are two types of questions you can use that are very different in character and usage.
There are two definitions that are used to describe closed questions. A common definition is:
A closed question can be answered with either a single word or a short phrase.
Thus 'How old are you?' and 'Where do you live?' are closed questions. A more limiting definition that is sometimes used is:
A closed question can be answered with either 'yes' or 'no'.
By this definition 'Are you happy?' and 'Is that a knife I see before me?' are closed questions, whilst 'What time is it?' and 'How old are you?' are not. This causes a problem of how to classify the short-answer non-yes-or-no questions, which do not fit well with the definition for open questions. A way of handling this is to define 'yes-no' as a sub-class of the short-answer closed question.
Using closed questions
Closed questions have the following characteristics:
This makes closed questions useful in the following situations:
Note how you can turn any opinion into a closed question that forces a yes or no by adding tag questions, such as "isn't it?", "don't you?" or "can't they?", to any statement.
The first word of a question sets up the dynamic of the closed question and signals the easy answer ahead. Note how these are words like: do, would, are, will, if.
An open question can be defined thus:
An open question is likely to receive a long answer.
Although any question can receive a long answer, open questions deliberately seek longer answers, and are the opposite of closed questions.
Using open questions
Open questions have the following characteristics:
This makes open questions useful in the following situations:
Open questions begin with such as: what, why, how, describe.
Using open questions can be scary, as they seem to hand the baton of control over to the other person. However, well-placed questions do leave you in control as you steer their interest and engage them where you want them.
When opening conversations, a good balance is around three closed questions to one open question. The closed questions start the conversation and summarize progress, whilst the open question gets the other person thinking and continuing to give you useful information about them.
A neat trick is to get them to ask you open questions. This then gives you the floor to talk about what you want. The way to achieve this is to intrigue them with an incomplete story or benefit.