Consultancy Skills Toolkit

Dealing with People

Communication Skills - Asking Questions

Listening alone will not, always give you all the information you require. You will need to guide and direct the conversation using questions. There are two important considerations: type of questions and level. The type of question we habitually use can determine the sort of response we get. The level at which we probe will determine the insight we gain into the other person.

There are Five Types of Questions:

Closed questions

Usually get one word ("Yes", "No") answers. Useful for checking facts but do not give much information. 

Open questions

Give the other person a chance to express their opinion. The other person has more control over the discussion. Open questions usually begin with "how", "where". An easy way to make sure your questions are open is to put "Tell me about ..... before the topic. 

Probing questions

Push the other person to develop their thinking. They can be more difficult to ask because we may become more inhibited about pushing the point. Probing questions can be translated as "Tell me more about ......". 

Leading questions

Produce no information at all. They tell the person what the answer is in the question. They can be very irritating and give the impression you are not interested in what the other person has to say. 

Multiple questions

Often start out as good probing questions. Sometimes we find it difficult to tolerate the silence so we fill in with supplementary questions. This ends with confusing the other person as well as ourselves.

If we can discover what is important to the individual, we are well on our way to understanding their behaviour, and their priorities. We can do this by focusing our questions on what they want, what they value. This information is often less accessible and can be said to be on a deeper level than, for instance, conversation. It may be necessary to build an atmosphere of trust before someone is prepared to disclose at this level. This can take some time.