Open or closed questions. Which is better? Often, neither!

11th October 2022

Do you prefer open or closed questions?

Why’s that your preference?

(Quick definitions – closed questions lead to answers containing very few words; open questions’ answers are longer).

Therefore, most people prefer asking open questions – because they get longer responses.

But the trouble with open questions: sometimes, the other person doesn’t want to say lots of words. For example, in a group Teams call, try asking “what do any of you think about that?”…

… and you’ll get total silence.

Why? Because the question is so open, that nobody knows if it’s their turn to speak, or what they’re supposed to say. So they don’t say anything.

Instead of preparing open or closed, I prefer using both. What I call CL-OP:

  1. CL – ask a CLosed question – which is easy to answer – to start the other person talking
  2. OP – follow-up with an OPen question, to keep them talking

So at the start of a meeting, I might say:

  • (CL) “We’ve agreed we have three topics to discuss today – X, Y and Z. Which of these shall we discuss first?” (This is easy to answer. They’ll say one of the three choices)
  • (OP) “Great – let’s start there. Just out of interest – why did you choose that one?” (This opens it up. They’ll now continue speaking, giving us the longer answer we want)

This technique works well – as you saw from the top two lines of the Tip above!

Action Point

For your next important communication: Identify CL-OP questions you could ask, to ensure they answer you, then keep talking.

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