The Art of Asking Good Questions
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a therapist and teacher, it’s that a good question has the potential to change the whole course of a conversation. A good question can take a surface-level conversation to a deep, vulnerable dialogue. Good questions can also help you learn about someone else, and can help you grow your relationship with them, whether it be with a partner, family member, friend, etc. To get a better idea of what I mean when I say “good” question, here are two types of questions:
Closed-ended questions are ones with yes or no answers, or ones that provide a list of answers to choose from. There is not usually space for the person answering to elaborate on their answer or provide their thoughts or opinions. Of course there are times when these types of questions are appropriate or necessary, but they do not generally open up or encourage further conversation.
Open-ended questions, on the other hand, do just that. These questions invite the other person to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. In addition, they generally do not have a preconceived answer, and are asked out of curiosity and wanting to know what the other person’s answer is. These types of questions can help people open up and share, while also helping you learn about the other person.
Here’s an example: Someone asking their partner “Was your day good today?” is a closed-ended question, probably leading to a yes or no answer. A more open-ended way to ask would be something like “How was your day?” or “What was good about your day today?” Just a simple change to the wording of a question can encourage the other person to give a more detailed answer, as well as show that you care and want to hear their answer.
It isn’t easy to always frame your questions in an open-ended way, but once you practice, it becomes easier. Try paying attention to when you ask a closed-ended question and think about whether there was a different way to ask that would have been more open-ended. You can also practice with another person, such as your partner or a family member, and challenge yourselves to try holding a conversation made up of mainly open-ended questions. You will be surprised how much you probably learn about the other person, and maybe even yourself, from that conversation.