Ask the right question and you'll get the information you need. Communication is key to all aspects of managing people, and managing people is the area I focus on with businesses. But it’s also crucial for communicating with everyone; clients, suppliers, family and friends. There are different ways to ask a question and that’s what we’re going to look at today. My examples are based on interview situations, but the information provided here is valid for all situations where you might need to ask questions. So let’s look at some of the different types of question and find out when you might use them.
If you ask a candidate, “Can you use Excel?” You are asking a closed question. A Closed question expects a specific response. The most common closed question is one that leads to either a “Yes” or a “No” response. For the example, “Can you use Excel?” the only realistic answer is “Yes” or “No”. Closed questions can be useful to keep an interview or conversation on track. They don’t allow the other person to spin off to a new topic.
In an interview you are generally looking to find out as much information as possible, and in that situation, closed questions are not always helpful. They don’t encourage the other person to give you additional information. If you were asking about Excel knowledge, more information would be helpful. If someone answers ‘Yes’ to the question “Can you use Excel?” it doesn’t really tell you anything useful. Can the person simply type numbers into Excel but can’t manipulate those numbers as data or do any formatting? Or are they Excel wizards? Can they create pivot tables and macros, and create customized tools that can do all sorts of exciting things?
Open questions, as the name suggests, leave it wide open for the other person to tell you anything. This is a good thing in an interview. You want to see how they interpret a question and what they think is relevant to include in their answer. All this information, if given freely by the candidate, will tell you a lot about them.
An open version of the Excel question might be “Tell me about a time when you’ve used Excel”. If they’ve never used Excel they can simply tell you that. But, if they have used Excel, it allows them to sell how they’ve used it to you.
Starting with a closed question can be a useful way to find out what a candidate thinks about something. There can be no sitting on the fence with a Yes/No question. You might start with a ‘Closed’ question to force a point of view. Then you could use an open question to get them to explain that point of view further.
For example, you might ask “Do you think it’s better to work in a team or on your own?” That is a closed question. The most likely answers to that question are either “Team” or “On your Own”. You’ve forced an opinion. You can then follow up with an open question to find out why they think that. Find out what experiences led to this opinion. You might follow up with “What has been your experience of working in a team?” Alternatively you could use, “What has been you experience of working on your own?” You could even ask both questions. Even if they answered “It depends”, your follow up open question would be to ask them what they mean by that and then they have to tell you more.
My Question To You
How well do you use questions? Do you used open and closed questions appropriately? If this is something you’d like to talk to me about, call me now on 01483 722464. You can also download my free eBook Team UP! - Powerful Ways to Build, Develop and Maintain an Effective Team and sign up for my weekly newsletter which contains lots of team and self-management tips.
Mulberry Bush Consulting: Maximizing your Business Capability through your People.
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