Questioning Techniques

Kathy Obear
Amherst, Massachusetts


1. Closed-ended Questions

Closed-ended questions are asked in such a way that they elicit a ONE WORD response. Examples:

Closed-ended questions often "lead" a person to an answer or response. They can be helpful when trying to suggest a feeling or idea. They often are less effective techniques because they narrow the person's focus and limit possible responses.

Words that often begin a closed-ended question: Are, Do, Did, Is, Have, Has, Don't, Were, Where, Was, You're, Can, Could, Would, Should, Will, When, Who, What is + a qualifier.

2. Open-ended Questions

Open-ended questions leave the other person a lot of room to answer the question in their own way. They often make people think about their answers. These questions put the responsibility for forming the focus of the discussion on the other person. Examples:

Words that often begin an open-ended question: What, How, Why, Tell me more, Help me understand.

If you use WHY questions, then some people may feel that you are criticizing them. Examples:


Kathy Obear is a diversity trainer and consultant based in Amherst, Massachusetts (413) 283-2503.


Copyright © 1991 Kathy Obear. Permission is granted to copy and use this material for educational and non-profit purposes only. This copyright statement and acknowledgement of authorship should remain intact on materials you copy from this website.