Dig Deep Using the 3 Kinds of Open Questions

March 22, 2013

In The Art of Asking Good Questions, we introduced open questions. Open questions are used to gather facts about the work, learn about your employees’ process skills and approaches to the tasks, discover what motivates and is important to them, and get a more well-rounded picture of events by listening to their sides of the story. They help employees develop competencies and confidence, which in turn leads to better work production. Open questions are also used to discover employees’ feelings, knowledge levels, skill needs, and views. Use these questions to find out information about employees so you can connect with, understand, and build a relationship with them.

 The downside to open questions is that it takes longer to listen to the answers because you can’t control the direction of the answers. The purpose is to allow expression and broad-based, wide-ranging responses. You might have to sift through extraneous information.

How to Formulate Open Questions

Typically open questions start with What, How, or Why. Nonquestion statements that serve the purpose of an open question  start with ‘‘Tell me about . . . ,’’ ‘‘Describe . . . ,’’ ‘‘Let’s talk about . . . ,’’ ‘‘Compare and Contrast . . . .’’

 Sample Open Questions Using What
  1. What is your opinion about . . . ?
  2. What happened that caused you to suddenly miss this deadline?
  3. What will you do now?
  4. What do you think about . . . ?
  5. What projects could be delayed if the budget were cut by 10 percent?
  6. What could we use this extra material for?
  7. What would happen if we did . . . ?
  8. What is this similar to that we’ve done in the past?
  9. What did you observe?
  10. What is the value of doing the project this way?
  11. What would successful installation of this product look like to a customer?
  12. What does this software update mean to our clients? To our competitors?
  13. What information do you have on . . . ?
  14. What new opportunities does this information offer us? What potential
  15. problems?
  16. What did we learn? How can we apply that to the future projects?
  17. What went well? Why?
  18. What would you do differently next time?
  19. What did our team learn that was unexpected?
  20. What are your goals for personal development next quarter?
  21. What is the impact of the restructuring on our Latin America employees?
  22. What do you think about our new project parameters?
  23. What else do we need to consider?
  24. What strategies do we need to consider to increase our customers in
  25. the Eastern region?
  26. What are the benefits of opening a site in Europe?
  27. What are the key alternatives we need to discuss?
  28. What is our best alternative? Why?
  29. What do the test results mean?



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About The Author

Nannette Rundle Carroll views management challenges as communication opportunities. For over 20 years, her powerful management seminars have helped participants use process skills to solve people problems. With this knowledge, managers can implement lasting solutions and build relationships. Her background as Director of Management Development/ Training for a Fortune 100 global division gives her a uniquely helpful perspective on aligning process, project and people management. Nannette is on the American Management Association Faculty. She is also a member of the National Speakers Association and is a certified Executive Presentation Skills expert.

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    I like these lists, I guess it comes down to thinking in a more expansive way about how to get info from someone.
    The one that annoys me is when I am asked something like “why DON’T you like…” or: “why DIDN’T it occur to you to…” I cannot explain why I do not like something (which is different from why I actually DISLIKE it) or did not do it (if it never occurred to me). It’s like saying why don’t you have wings, or 7 arms or something. There is no answer. But people love to ask these kinds of questions! What they actually want is for me to explain myself from their perspective. Sorry, can’t be done.
    So, remember to consider how your point of view affects things while framing your questions.

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