What is an open-ended question

September 3rd 2023

2 minutes read

What is an open-ended question
Written by LiveLink
September 3rd 2023
Reading Time: 2 minutes

What IS an open-ended question?

If you’ve been on any kind of communication, sales or customer service course you will have heard the term ‘open-ended questions’.

And it’s always assumed that we understand what they’re talking about.  I remember smiling and nodding on many a course without really understanding what the tutor was talking about.

So I thought I would dive in to this topic and talk about it in more detail.  And hopefully things will become clearer.

At a basic level, it’s any question that cannot be answered with the words ‘yes or no’.

If I asked you is it sunny, this can be answered as yes or no.  If I asked what the weather is like, answering yes or no would be ridiculous so asking what the weather is like makes it a conversation starter.

Why are open-ended questions important?

  1. Engagement: Open-ended questions invite the other person to actively participate in the conversation. They encourage deeper engagement and show that you value their input.
  2. Understanding: By asking these questions, you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s thoughts, perspectives, and experiences. This information can help you tailor your responses and interactions accordingly.
  3. Empathy: Open-ended questions demonstrate empathy by giving the other person an opportunity to express themselves fully. This can be particularly useful in situations where they might be feeling frustrated or emotional.
  4. Building Relationships: Engaging in meaningful conversations through open-ended questions can help build rapport and strengthen relationships over time.

Let’s have some examples

  1. “Can you tell me more about your experience with [topic]?”
  2. “What are your thoughts on [subject]?”
  3. “How do you feel about [situation]?”
  4. “What challenges have you encountered while dealing with [issue]?”
  5. “In what ways do you see [idea] making a difference?”
  6. “Could you share an example of a time when [scenario] happened?”
  7. “What do you think are the most important factors to consider when [activity]?”
  8. “How would you approach [task] in your own unique way?”
  9. “What aspects of [project] do you find most exciting?”
  10. “What are some potential solutions you see for [problem]?”

And a few hot tips too

  1. Avoid Leading Questions: Ensure your questions don’t suggest a specific answer or bias. Keep them neutral and open to interpretation.
  2. Be Curious: Approach the conversation with a genuine curiosity to learn from the other person’s perspective.
  3. Listen Actively: Once you ask an open-ended question, give the person time to answer fully. Listen attentively without interrupting.
  4. Follow-Up Questions: Based on their response, ask follow-up questions that delve deeper into the topic. This shows your interest and keeps the conversation flowing.
  5. Tailor to the Situation: Consider the context of the conversation and the person’s background when framing your open-ended questions.

I’m not going to lie, this takes some practice and skill.  But it’s a skill you’ll find very useful when you’re in a customer service or sales situation.

It might help avoid those horrible ‘silent’ moments too.

Although a pause does have its place but more about that another time.

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