Open and Closed Questions

How good are the questions you asked people?  Two simple categories of questions are open and closed.  Closed questions are one that require a very specific answer.  For example "Where do you live?"  or "Who do you work for".  These really might give you important specific information but tell you very little about the other person.  I much prefer more open questions.  A follow-up question might be "How did you get into that line of work?" or "What is it like to live there?"  These are open questions and lead to lots of interesting information.

Business analysts are often after very specific information from a person they are interviewing so often asked very closed questions.  "How often do you do that activity?"   The difficulty is that you do not know much about that persons experience or point of view.  Before you get into closed questions I suggest you get information on the person’s point of view.  "What do you think about …….?"   or "What value would …… be to you and your job?" 

Open questions really help evaluate the answers you get.   A person who has a very negative or positive view will give very different answers.  The word "Analyst" in the job function means that you need to Analise the answer not not just record facts.  Misleading information can really send a project off in the wrong direction. 

In addition open questions really help in developing rapport with the person you are interviewing.  However if the person is a real talker, at some stage closed questions are really necessary to narrow the conversation to the subject at hand.

These are some very fundamental things about interviewing but review of fundamentals is always useful.

This post was inspired by a post on  about questions to ask people.

  1. Stephen Reply

    Hey Rex are you talking about the conversation we had?

  2. Jim Reply

    When one is problem solving with someone we often assume we know what the problem is and get into problem solving mode right away. I suggest a better way to start might be “Tell me about the problem.”
    It reminds me of a story of a little kid who ask a parent, “Where do I come from?” The parent took a deep breath and went into a detailed discussion of the facts of life. At the end, the child says, “I know all that. Johnny says he is from Cleveland. Where am I from?”
    Assume makes an ass out of you and me.

  3. Rex Reply

    I find this to be extremely effective but requires focused effort. In our zeal to resolve, fix, build we so often ask the questions that provide us a direct answer.
    Along these lines is the open answer (which is really an open question to the question). In the same way an open question allows for greater understanding, an open answer allows for greater understanding. Why? It can be used a coaching means to help the person find the answer themselves. It allows one to validate why the question is being raised. Sometimes the question asked in the wrong question but we just didn’t know it.
    Of course, like the open question…. There is the right time and the wrong time for open answers. It may really bug the heck out the person looking for the answer, but the asking just might be more imporant than the answer.

  4. Maida Reply

    One of the most interesting and challenging trainings I have been through was a thorough training in active listening. It’s surprising how much we impose our own assumptions and preconceptions to what other people say, and challenging to stop and keep ourselves out of it. I think that open questions are a big part of that – after all, you need them to tell you what they think in order to get their perspective!

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