Using Questions


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Communicating through questions is subtle and more indirect. It possesses the additional advantage that the person typically doesn’t become defensive as a result of during interpersonal communication.

How Questions Can be Used

“The candidate had been talking on and on for about an hour. Finally, he said, “Now are there any questions?” “Yes,” came a voice from the rear, “who else is running?”

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There are a number of reasons why you should use questions. These include:

As a Means of Clarifying Meaning

A question is a tactful method testing that there is no misunderstanding. Sometimes we may not understand what we have just been told. A question comes to the rescue.

To Facilitate Action

Questions can stimulate progress by getting someone to take action. For example you can ask, “What do you plan to do about it?”

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To Keep the Conversation Going

Certain types of questions prevent the conversation from dropping off completely. For example, “Please tell me more?”

As a Probe To Gather More Information

To elicit information is the most commonly accepted reason to use a question and the one most people would associate with the use of questions.

To Change The Subject

Sometimes the conversation gets stuck in the quicksand of back and forth statements that lead no where. A well designed question is the rope that pulls the conversation in a different direction.

To “Tie-down” a Decision

Tie-downs often are useful tools to get someone to make a decision. For example, “What would you like to do?”

To Serve as an Intervention

This challenge to the status quo is an indirect and less threatening method for someone bring up underlying assumptions or unstated inferences. For example, “How sure are we that this information is accurate?”


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Types of Questions

Open Versus Closed

Closed questions are designed to be answered with a simple yes or no. Typically, these questions start with an action verb such as do, did, have, etc. Another way is to put an or in the middle of the statement.

Open ended questions are generated around the words how, what and why. The use of when and who are helpful. i.e. you don’t get a simple yes or no and answers are typically very specific.

Quick Review: Examine the questions below and determine if each is a closed or open question.

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Probes

Probes force the other person to reveal more information, often getting at underlying beliefs, attitudes or feelings.

Examples:

“Could you tell me a little more about it?”

“How do you feel about working here?”

Defining Clarifying Questions

Rather than gather information, these questions
verify that existing information shared between
sender & receiver is the same.

Tie-Downs

These are a subtle way of “forcing” your opinion onto another. Sales people would use these types of questions to close.

Paraphrasing Questions

Paraphrasing is a type of clarifying question. These are also good for gathering information or making sure you understood someone correctly. Restate the who, what, when where, how in the form of the question.

Definition of Hypothetical Questions

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Hypothetical questions are considered to be a type of intervention. They are good for doing “what ifs” with people and can be used to indirectly challenge an existing idea by examining its consequences.

Definition of Rhetorical Questions 

Rhetorical questions are a type of intervention used by a sender but not answered by the receiver. This type of question is designed to bring up an idea or issue. It does not require a response by the listener. In some cases, the sender answers their own question. In other cases, the question hangs unanswered except in the other person’s mind.

Example

How to do know you are right?. . . I’ll tell you.

“We are buying this property at a time when both mortgage rates and home prices are at a historic high. What would happen if we needed to sell in two years, could we get our money back?” . . . . It would be impossible.

Definition of Leading Questions 

This type of tie-down questions are phrased for the person to answer in a certain way. Leading questions really have an ulterior motive in mind—to get the person to say what you want them to. Trail lawyers frequently use these to “put a spin” on the
evidence or opinions expressed in favor of their clients.

Examples

A defense attorney might say, “Would you agree, that you cannot say with 100% certainty that my client was at the crime scene that night?”

A prosecutor could say, “In your professional
opinion, is it true that the defendant could have been at the crime scene that night?”

Evaluating Responses To Questions

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Reflex Responses

Reflexive questions elicit a type of answer that does not require serious thinking. Normally, the first thing that pops into mind is what comes out.

Examples:

In which direction do you think the sun will rise? . . . The east.

How are you?  . . . I’m fine.

Introspective Responses

Introspective questions force the receiver to think carefully prior to answering. The responses to these questions are more valuable since the person must seriously think through the answer.

Example:

Why do you think the sun rises the way it does?

Leadership Skill Development

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