Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions are the type of question that a person is unable to answer with a single-word answer. A yes or no question is not an example open ended question. Questions with very brief, definitive answers are usually not open ended either. If you ask someone the color of the sky, their answer would be ‘blue,” and there is a chance he or she will not elaborate. The goal of open ended questions is to spark conversation and learn as much information as possible. Though it is possible for someone to give a long and detailed description of the sky color, it is not necessary. If you are trying to get a person to open up and communicate with more than just  one-word answers, you want to avoid questions that can be answered simply. Open ended questions are a great tool for getting people to talk because an elaborate, detailed answer is required.

There are many situations in which you would want to ask open ended questions. Any time you want to spark conversation an open ended question can help. If you are dealing with someone who typically gives brief answers and you need additional information, an open ended question can get them talking. In a conversation, you can combine open ended questions with yes or no questions, and still get a great deal of information. If you are trying to get someone to open up to you or you need information from someone, you have a variety of choices when it comes to asking open ended questions.

Open Ended Questions for Significant Others

Open Ended Questions

No brief answers, please!

One of the most common occurrences for asking open ended questions is when you are talking to your significant other. If you have just begun dating someone, open ended questions are a great way to get to know someone. If a person is invited to elaborate on his or her life through open ended questions, he or she will feel interesting and at ease. If you want to express to a new love interest that you would like to get to know him or her better, use open ended questions when talking. Some useful open ended questions to ask when on a date early in a relationship include:

  • What was your childhood like?
  • What is an average day like at your job?
  • What do you like most about your friends?
  • What are some of your romantic pet peeves?
  • What is your relationship with your family currently like?

Another instance when open ended questions are appropriate is when you are talking to your long-term significant other. One of the biggest complaints people have in relationships is an inability to communicate. Early in the relationship they might have talked for hours on end, but once familiarity sets in, one of the participants shuts down and no longer has anything to share. It might not be that he or she does not want to share, but there might be a feeling of disinterest or boredom. If you feel as if the other person does not want to hear what you have to say, you are going to shorten what it is you are saying to as little as possible. If you are trying to get your significant other to open up and start communicating again, try a few of these open ended questions:

  • What was the best part of your day and why?
  • What have you done recently that has been enjoyable?
  • What did you think about (a recent event)?

Open Ended Questions for Children

Open ended questions can be very useful when trying to communicate with children, especially adolescents. Though kids might be very talkative when they are young, they often grow quiet and secretive as they age. This is perfectly normal, but it can be frustrating for parents to interact with their children and get them to open up about feelings and events. If you are trying to talk to your child and you are getting just yes or no answers, try a few of these open ended questions:

  • What are some interesting things you have done recently with your friends?
  • What is your favorite subject in school right now?
  • What rules and restrictions do your friends have to follow when they go out?
  • Are there any upcoming events you plan to attend?
  • What would you like to do for summer/school break if you could?

Keep in mind these questions might be met with some resistance. Teenagers have a tendency to distrust adults and view them as nosy or prying when they ask questions, but if you show interest in their lives and you do not push for too many details, they should eventually open up. The key to communicating with your teenager is to not express distrust or judgment. When he or she answers your questions, listen, but do not judge or offer advice unless asked. It can be tempting to form opinions and let those opinions be known to your child, but you are only pushing him or her away. Unless there is a serious crisis or unless your child comes to you for your opinion, take time to listen to the information he or she chooses to share.

Open Ended Questions for the Workplace

Your place of employment is another important place to ask open ended questions. One of the biggest frustrations in the workplace is a breakdown in communication. If you are unsure about a task, make sure you get as much information as possible. You should ask a blend of open ended and specific yes or no questions. Typically, you can start a conversation with yes or no questions, and then push further with open ended questions. Just because your boss or a co-worker answers a group of yes or no questions does not mean you have all of the information you need. By asking open ended questions and getting your co-workers to elaborate, you can get a feel for the importance of a project, the time sensitivity of a project, and whether or not others are feeling stress over a project.

Open Ended Questions for Yourself

Finally, you can ask open ended questions of yourself. It might seem strange to ask yourself questions, but one of the healthiest ways to deal with stress and internal conflict is to question your motives and feelings. If you take time each day to write in a journal, include an open ended question to prompt your writing. If you are struggling with a particular crisis, take time to reflect on your feelings with open ended questions. The questions will vary depending on the situation, but you will soon realize that by further examining your emotions and thoughts about something, you are beginning to solve a problem or heal emotional damage.

Open ended questions help you gather additional information and make communication more pleasant. If you are feeling frustrated internally or you are having a hard time connecting with someone in your life, consider open ended questions as a tool to solving your problem.

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