A common frustration we hear from leaders and managers, is customer service staff who never seem to know the answers to the questions that really matter when you’re trying to resolve customer complaints. Another frequent dilemma is how to get members of your team to share problems with you instead of keeping them to themselves.

Whether it’s you or your staff asking the questions, working on questioning skills will help solve these frustrations.

What types of questions are there?

Like most people, if I ask you what types of questions there are, you’d probably reply with ‘open’ and ‘closed’. In fact, there are many other varieties that can significantly impact the responses you get, whether your staff, stakeholders or customers are on the receiving end.

First, let’s take a quick look at what open and closed questions are and why they work. Then we’ll explore some of the other question types that will help improve your skills.


What’s an open question?

Open questions start with:

• How    • Why    • Where    • What    • When    • Who

That’s it. There aren’t any other ways to start an open question.

The reason it’s called an open question is because starting a question with one of these words, is more likely to engage the other person to provide an answer that requires more than just a one word response.

There’s actually no real guarantee to that, but the chances are much higher.

 Open question example: “How do you think the session is going?”

This the type of question that should open up the opportunity for the respondent to share their thoughts on the session.

Of course, they could just say: “Fine”. That’s when you would follow up with another open question such as:“What exactly do you think is fine about it?”

This gives them more of a reason to share their thoughts.

What’s a closed question?

Closed questions have a lot more ways of starting. Some examples include:

• Should    • Did    • Can    • Will    • Could    • Shall

Closed questions normally provide the option of a one word response, which is often ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Closed question example: “Can you write this down?”

This will mean the other person is going to either say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Knowing the difference between open and closed questions will help you in your conversations with your colleagues and your customers.

Match the question type to your goal

If you want the person to share their thoughts and feelings on something the obvious way to get them to talk – or ‘open up’ – is to ask an Open question.

If you want to clarify something, then a Closed question will do the job for you.

What other question types are there?

There are a number of other question types that can be applied to these Open or Closed questions, including:

• Leading Question

This is where you would ask a question towards a type of response you want to hear.

For example: “What did you like about the presentation?”

This is effectively leading the other person to tell you what they liked about it. There isn’t much room for another response unless they liked nothing about it at all. Of course you can have an open leading or a closed leading question.

• Echoic Question

This is where you repeat back part of a statement to the person that just said something to you. This is especially useful if you didn’t hear a part of their sentence or want to clarify a component of what they said.

One example is if someone was giving you their address and you didn’t hear the name of the street correctly, as in: “I live at 245 ‘urrrmm’ Street”, you would respond by asking an echoic question.

For example: “You live at 245 what’ street?”

This tells the other person that you heard everything else okay – it was just the street name they need to repeat a bit more clearly.

• Rhetorical Question

These are questions that don’t require a response.

For example: “What would happen if we all got sick at once?”

Sometimes a rhetorical question is used just to get people to think about something, rather than come up with an immediate solution or response.

• Clarifying Question

Use these to check your understanding or to delve a bit deeper into a part of the discussion.

For example: “Are you saying that they didn’t care about what they did?”

This will give the other person an opportunity to either confirm what you asked or clarify something different.

• Direct Question

We don’t often use direct questions. We tend to soften them up a bit.

For example: “Where’s the bus station?”

Instead, this type of question is often asked after a softener statement, like: “Excuse me, I’m a little lost. Can you tell me where the bus station is?”

Final point

Of course, you could actually ask a question in another way.

For example, if you are struggling to get someone to open up and talk to you, try the phrase:

 “Tell me about…”

This is not a question as such, but acts like a question in getting them to talk to you.

Try it out next time you need some help in getting someone to talk to you.

I find this especially useful for my children. When I ask: “What did you do today?” they often respond with shrugged shoulders or the one word answer: “Stuff.” Yet, when I change it to: “Tell me about your day,” I get a little more information.

Training solutions

If you can see the value in improving your questioning skills and passing this learning on to your team, we have a range of training solutions to help.

If you know your staff have room for improvement, but you’re unsure which solution will get you the results you want, just get in touch and we’ll be happy to advise you on the best solution.