When Open-Ended Questions Don’t Work

When was the last time you asked an open-ended question and it didn’t work?

Many of us have been taught the value of open-ended questions, the type of questions that can’t be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”. Questions like:

“What can I do to help?”

This is a great question that invites the other person to tell us specifically what we might do to assist. When we don’t get an answer, we often ask another open-ended question only to get crickets again.

I have found that when an open-ended question doesn’t elicit a response, it is often best to follow-up with a closed-ended question, such as, “If I were to do the following, would that be helpful to you?”

While ordinarily we don’t want to answer our own question, or provide a multiple choice menu, when we are faced with confusion, shyness or a lack of thoughtfulness on the part of the other person, asking a closed-ended question can actually open up dialogue with the other person.

Take some time to list your most powerful open-ended questions on a piece of paper, and then compose one companion closed-ended question you might ask next for each open-ended question that goes unanswered.

Remember, though, to allow enough time for your open-ended question to land and be understood before jumping to your back-up question. When you let silence do the heavy lifting, you will be pleasantly surprised how often that very first [open-ended] question elicits an answer.