Want to Have Better Conversations? Ask Open-Ended Questions

By Marcella Raskin

Reviewed, fact-checked & edited by Lenny Terra.
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Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a conversation rut? You know, when you and the other person are just talking about surface-level stuff and not getting anywhere? If that sounds familiar, then one of the best things you can do is start asking open-ended questions.

That way, you’ll get them talking about more meaningful topics and have better conversations overall. Ready to give it a try? Awesome! Here are a few tips to help get you started.

What are open-ended questions?

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person is just waiting for their turn to talk? Or been asked a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”? These are examples of closed-ended questions which aren’t very useful for generating discussion.

In contrast, open-ended questions are designed to encourage people to share their thoughts and opinions and require more thought than closed-ended ones, but they can lead to more exciting and helpful conversations. They usually start with words like what, how, describe, tell me about…, or what do you think about… and they can’t be answered with a single word.

They help to encourage a back-and-forth conversation, and they can often lead to more in-depth discussions. Open-ended questions can be used in all sorts of settings, from work meetings to casual conversations. Asking open-ended questions is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. With some practice, you’ll be asking open-ended questions like a pro!

How to Use the Super Power of Open-Ended Questions

Why are open-ended questions so important?

By encouraging in-depth discussion, open-ended questions are an invaluable conversational tool. Closed-ended questions don’t offer you much to work with since the other person can only respond with a single word. On the other hand, when you ask an open-ended question, the other person has to share their thoughts and opinions, which can lead to more interesting and helpful conversations.

Here are a few reasons why open-ended questions are so important:

  • They help you learn more about the other person. If you want to get to know someone better, ask them some open-ended questions so they may share their views and opinions with you. If your goal is to better know the other person, this is a great tool to employ.
  • When used properly, they facilitate communication. By encouraging them to elaborate on their answers to your open-ended questions, you may develop a more meaningful rapport with the other person. 
  • They help you have more interesting conversations. There’s no denying that the weather makes for a very boring conversation topic. Asking a person an open-ended question forces them to give you their honest perspective on a topic, which may lead to richer discussions.
  • Asking a question that leaves room for the other person’s response may be an effective tool for dispute resolution. If you and another person have a disagreement, this will help immensely.
  • They help you make better decisions. Asking a question that leaves room for the respondent’s own views and opinions increases your chances of gaining valuable insight that may inform future decision-making. If you need to make an important decision, this is a great tool to have at your disposal.

As you can see, there are many reasons why open-ended questions are so important. If you want to have better conversations, start using open-ended questions; you won’t regret it! So the next time you want to generate some meaningful conversation, ditch the closed-ended questions and try asking something open-ended instead. Your conversation partner will appreciate it, and you might learn something new.

What are some tips for asking open-ended questions?

What are some tips for asking open ended questions

If you want to start asking more in-depth inquiries, consider the following:

  • Start with an easy question. If you’re nervous about asking an open-ended question, start with something simple. Once you get the hang of it, you can move on to more complicated questions.
  • Be interested in the answer. When asking an open-ended question, it’s important to be genuinely interested in the response. Listen closely to what the other person is saying and ask follow-up questions if necessary.
  • Avoid leading questions. A leading question suggests a particular answer, usually attempting to influence the other person’s response. For example, “Did you like the book?” is a leading question because it assumes that the person did like the book. Leading questions can shut down conversation rather than encourage it, so avoiding them is best.
  • Keep it relevant. Make sure your questions are relevant to the conversation you’re having. If they’re not, you might end up causing confusion or making the other person feel uncomfortable.
  • Be respectful. When you’re asking someone personal questions, it’s essential to respect their privacy. If you want to make sure the other person is comfortable, you shouldn’t ask them any questions that may be seen as intrusive or personal.

What are some examples of open-ended questions?

In order to help you strike up a discussion with someone, here are some examples of open-ended questions:

  • What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
  • What’s been on your mind lately?
  • How do you feel about ____?
  • What do you think about ____?
  • Can you tell me more about ____?
  • Why do you believe ____?
  • What does ____ feel like?
  • Where does ____ come from?
  • Who do you think of when you think of ____?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
  • What’s your favorite place to go on vacation?
  • What’s your favorite thing to eat?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do for fun?
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  • If you could visit any place in the world, where would it be?

In some cases, avoid “why” questions.

“Why” questions can often come across as confrontational or judging. For example, “Why do you think that?” or “Why did you do that?” Instead, try to use “what” or “how” questions, which are more likely to encourage a productive conversation.

If you’re trying to build rapport or show empathy, it’s best to avoid “why” questions and opt for something more neutral.

Why do closed-ended questions often lead to awkward silences or disagreements?

Questions that can only be answered with a yes or no are called closed-ended questions. They often seem like a good way to get a conversation going, but in reality, they can often lead to awkward silences or disagreements.

The problem is that closed-ended questions don’t allow for any room for discussion or interpretation. They force people to give a black-and-white answer when in reality, most things are somewhere in the gray area.

Additionally, closed-ended questions can sometimes put people on the defensive, especially if they feel like they’re being interrogated. An open-ended question, on the other hand, is a question that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

It invites discussion and allows people to share their thoughts and opinions. So next time you’re looking to start a conversation, try asking an open-ended question instead of a closed-ended one.

Are there any potential drawbacks to using open-ended questions in conversations, and if so, what are they?

One potential drawback of using open-ended questions is that they can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. It’s easy to accidentally ask a question that’s too personal or that comes off as an interrogation if you’re not cautious. For example, avoid asking questions about someone’s personal life or opinions unless you know them well and are confident they won’t mind sharing.

awkward silences

Another potential drawback is that open-ended questions can sometimes lead to long, drawn-out conversations that don’t go anywhere. If you find yourself in one of these types of conversations, it’s probably best to steer the conversation in a different direction or move on to another topic altogether.

Additionally, open-ended questions can sometimes lead to long pauses in conversation as people try to think of a response. One must be aware of these potential drawbacks and use open-ended questions sparingly to keep the conversation flowing.

Finally, another potential drawback is that open-ended questions can sometimes be overwhelming. If someone is feeling overwhelmed, they may have trouble thinking of a response or feel like they need to share everything on their mind.

In these situations, it’s often best to stick to closed-ended questions or make a statement instead of asking a question. Despite these potential drawbacks, open-ended questions can be extremely beneficial in conversations.

How do you respond when someone asks you an open-ended question?

Open-ended questions can be difficult to answer, especially if you’re not used to thinking on your feet. However, there are several methods you may use to help you in developing a thoughtful answer. To start, see if you can take a deep breath and calm yourself.

This will help you clear your head and think more clearly. Second, try to focus on the question itself. What is the person really asking? Once you understand the question well, you can begin to formulate a response.

Last but not least, don’t rush to provide a response. There’s no need to be in a hurry; pausing to think things through is preferable to saying something hastily that you could come to regret. With these tips in mind, you’ll be better equipped to handle open-ended questions like a pro.

How to Answer Open Ended Questions in an Interview

Are there any situations where it’s inappropriate to ask an open-ended question?

Asking questions is a great way to get to know someone, but there are certain situations where it’s not appropriate to ask an open-ended question. For example, if you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s generally advisable to stick to closed-ended questions. This is because open-ended questions can be seen as intrusive and may make the other person feel uncomfortable.

Additionally, if you’re in a situation where time is limited (such as an interview), it’s usually best to stick to closed-ended questions to get the information you need quickly. Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rules, so just use your common sense.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to ask questions.

Asking questions is a daily skill, whether talking to friends, family, or strangers. Yet, for some reason, many of us freeze up when it comes to asking open-ended questions. We worry that we’ll sound intrusive or that we won’t know what to do with the answer. But the truth is, open-ended questions are usually easy to ask and can lead to some great conversations.

Just remember to keep your tone casual and avoid putting pressure on the other person to answer, use your best judgment, and avoid asking too personal questions. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pro at asking open-ended questions.

Conclusion.

By using open-ended questions, we can get to know the person better and have more meaningful conversations. Tell me about some of your favorite open-ended questions. Share them in the comments below! Remember to practice active listening and be present in the moment. And most importantly, have fun with it!

Author

  • Marcella Raskin

    Marcella Raskin is the founder & editor-in-chief. She is a passionate and articulate writer who has dedicated her life to studying human potential. She has studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Life Purpose Coaching, Group Life Coaching. She loves helping women (and men) explore themselves through writing, which allows for an exploration into one's thoughts on entrepreneurship or personal development topics such as mindset-shaping techniques that can positively shape someone's perspectives about themselves when they don't think it could ever happen! She practices sports and has studied Exercise Physiology. She is married and the mother of two girls.

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