Communication skills: Ask open-ended questions! Here’s why.

open ended questions

Open-ended questions help us really understand where someone’s coming from. They could be a friend, teacher, or even a future employer in a job interview!

Communication is a Young Professional skill that’s a powerful mix of how you present yourself, how you influence other people, and how you share information and ideas with them. It will get you far in life… but it’s like a muscle you have to train!

What are open-ended questions?

We’ve all been in a situation where we really want to know something, but when we ask, we just get a short one-word answer… and it’s usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Actually finding something out from the person you’re talking to can feel like playing a game of 20 questions.

And, let’s be honest, sometimes we’ve BEEN that person giving a yes/no answer, even if we know the person asking is looking for a little bit more. We might be doing it to be polite, or we feel shy at being asked, or we’re not really sure what the person wants to know.

The good news is that open-ended questions help the person asking a question AND the person trying to reply. They cannot be replied to with just ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or just a one-word answer. A reply to an open-ended question requires more thought. And that leads to real communication.

Example of an open-ended question

Do you like football? This is a closed-ended question.

The answer is most likely going to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You may not learn much by asking this question.

What sports do you like? This is an open-ended question.

The person has to reply with at least one sport, or else say they don’t like sports… and you might even find out why! Or you could follow up with another open-ended question like ‘what do you like instead?’. In this way, asking open-ended questions can help you find out a lot more. It can help you establish common ground with a person, or learn more about how they tick. It can also help you learn new things or get to the bottom of a problem in the workplace, too.

Quiz: Which of these is an open-ended question?

Hint: If you can reply with a one-word answer, it’s a closed question…

1. Are you OK?

2. How are things going?

3. Do you really think that’s a good idea in this situation?

4. How would that work in this situation?

5. Do you get on well with your boss?

6. How do you feel about your boss?

7. Do you like this project I’ve been working on?

8. What are your thoughts about this project I’ve been working on?


Quick challenge: Now turn these closed-ended questions into open-ended questions!

This one is up to you. Take a moment to think… how would you turn these questions with one-word answers into open-ended questions where you could learn a bit more than just one thing from someone if you asked them?

  • What’s your top favourite show on TV right now?
  • Are you scared of sharks?
  • Do you like Christmas?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • What’s your biggest strength?

How does this challenge help you in life and work?

  • Open-ended questions are a handy way to resolve conflict and argument, because people have to open up and explain themselves with a bit more thought.
  • They are a good way to see what someone really thinks about all kinds of things – a meeting, a presentation, a new idea, a new way of doing old tasks… you name it.
  • The person asking gets more information to act on, so they are more likely to make better decisions.
  • The person answering gets to actually voice what they think, and feels more listened to.

Open-ended questions can make a big difference to how we all communicate with each other – they’re a great technique to learn for any situation!

See more on Youth Employment UK about clever questions

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