Posts Tagged ‘Questions’

What is an “Open-Ended Question?”

April 13, 2009

The title above is an example of an open-ended question — it cannot be answered “yes, no or maybe.” Open-ended questions are structured to draw information from people. They usually begin with who, what, when, how, and sometimes, why. Other phrases such as, “Please tell me about…” or “Help me understand…” are also useful ways to draw out information. They are statement, not questions. Example: “How does the process work?” becomes “Please tell me about the process you are using.” The second version will probably get you more information, and you may eventually want to ask the “how” question in addition.

Checking up on yourself: The next time you make joint calls with your manager or with a colleague, ask him or her to count the number of closed ended questions you ask, and to jot them down if that’s not too obvious to your client or prospect. You will probably be surprised at how often you ask questions that can get you “yes, no, maybe” answers.

Converting questions to open-ended: You can often rephrase a closed question using one of the helper words listed above and make it open-ended. Example: “Were you satisfied with the results?” could become “What did you think of the results?” or “How satisfied were you with the results?” or “What were the results?”

There is nothing wrong with asking closed questions when appropriate. Often you just need a “yes, no, maybe” response. When you ask, “Did you install the new system?” you find out which direction to take your conversation based on the “yes” or “no” response, for example.

Be careful asking why. When we teach open-ended questions to our Integrity Selling® students, we recommend they use the word “why” carefully. People can be inadvertently put on the defensive when they are asked “why.” “Why do you do that?” might be perceived as a challenge. “Tell be about the reasons for doing it like that,” might be better received.

Our best advice: Think about the problems you can solve for your prospects. Then generate a list of five to 20 questions from which you can choose to conduct an initial interview, which will tell you whether they have one or more of those problems. Then go over the questions and convert as many as possible to “open-ended.” You will uncover more opportunity this way, or find out that you do not really have a prospect.

Posted by J. Mark Walker