7 Types of Questions

Questioning skills

Knowing how to ask the right questions can save time, create the right atmosphere and avoid slipping into a ‘telling’ mode. When people think about different types of questions, the standard responses are ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’. Well, they are the two most basic types of questions, sure but there are others that can have an impact which are varieties of both the standard open and closed question types.

Let’s look at the two basic questions first anyway:

Open questions start with:

  • How

  • Why

  • Where

  • What

  • When

  • Who

That’s it. There aren’t any other ways to start an open question. Why is it called an open question? Well, starting a question with one of these words is more likely to engage the other person to provide an answer that requires more than just a one word response. There’s actually no real guarantee to that, but the chances are much higher.

For example: “How do you think the session is going?” should open up the opportunity for the respondent to share their thoughts on the session. Of course, they could just say “Fine”. That’s when you would follow up with another open question such as, “What exactly do you think is fine about it?” which will give them more of a reason to share their thoughts.

Closed questions have a lot more ways of starting. Some examples include:

  • Should

  • Did

  • Can

  • Will

  • Could

  • Shall

Closed questions normally provide the respondent with the option of a one word response which is often ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

For example: “Can you write this down?” will mean the other person is going to either say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Knowing this basic information can help us in our coaching. If we want the person to share their thoughts and feelings on something – the obvious way to get them to talk or ‘open up’ is to ask an ‘Open’ question. If we want to clarify something, then a ‘Closed’ question will do it.

Then there are a number of other question types that can be applied to these Open or Closed questions. These include:

Leading Question – this is where you would ask a question towards a type of response you want to hear. For example, “What did you like about the presentation?” is effectively leading the other person to tell you what they liked about it. There isn’t much room for another response unless they liked nothing about it at all. Of course you can have an open leading or a closed leading question.

Echoic Question – this is where you repeat back part of a statement to the person that just said something to you. This is especially useful if you didn’t hear a part of their sentence or want to clarify a component of what they said. For example, if someone was giving you their address and you didn’t hear the name of the street correctly, as in “I live at 245 ‘urrrmm’ Street”, you would respond by asking, “You live at 245 ‘what’ street?” This tells the other person that you heard everything else okay – it was just the street name they need to repeat a bit more clearly.

Rhetorical Question – these are questions that don’t require a response. They often don’t sound like actual questions. For example, “I wonder what would happen if we all got sick at once?” Sometimes a rhetorical question is used just to get people to think about something rather than come up with an immediate solution or response.

Clarifying Question – Use these to check your understanding or to delve a bit deeper into a part of the discussion. These types of questions can be structured like, “Are you saying that they didn’t care about what they did?” This will give the other person an opportunity to either confirm what you asked or clarify something different.

Direct Question – we don’t often use direct questions. We tend to soften them up a bit. For example, the direct question, “Where’s the bus station?” is often asked after a softener statement like, “Excuse me, I’m a little lost. Where’s the bus station?”

Of course, you could actually ask a question in another way. For example, if you are struggling to get someone to open up and talk to you, try the phrase, “Tell me about…” This is not a question as such but acts like a question in getting them to talk to you. Try it out next time you need some help in getting someone to talk to you. I find this especially useful for my children. When I ask, “What did you do today?” They often respond with shrugged shoulders or the one word answer, “Stuff.” Yet, when I change it to; “Tell me about your day.” I get a little more information.