It’s good to talk

It’s good to talk using Open Ended Questions

Questions: Whether they are “open” or “closed”, they can help a person open up or help to close them down.

A closed question is one used to gather specific information – it can normally be answered with either a single word or a short phrase. An open ended question is one that is used in order to gather lots of information – you ask it with the intent of getting a long answer. So basically, open ended questions have no correct answer and require an explanation of sorts.

Questions starting with ‘what’ and ‘how’ are a good starting point for understanding how to use open ended questions. I personally try not to use ‘why’ directly as a question as I feel it implies judgement and can often feel like an unanswerable question, which may feel threatening and a little overwhelming for some. Instead of why I will often ask either “what was that about”? or simply “what happened”?

Some examples of open ended questions:

How does it impact on you when…
How do you feel?
What impression did you have of….
What are your thoughts on….
What is it about that that’s important to you?
How did you feel when that happened?
What did you do when she said that?
What are your reasons for saying that?

Rewording your phrasing into open ended questions takes practice. Start by asking someone “how was your day”, “tell me about your day” or “what happened today”? Using these in daily conversation will soon become a habit and help build conversations with depth.

Open ended questions also ensure that you give others a chance to talk more than you. It forces you to listen more in any conversation because you have to wait for a longer response with these questions.

Encouraging someone to talk more, about themselves, their own thoughts and their feelings on a subject, shows that you have a genuine interest in them and care enough to want to take the time to listen. This is immensely powerful for the person being listened to and it also helps strengthen relationships. Whether you know the person well, or you are already a close friend or family member, these personal and open ended questions only lead to an even stronger bond with longer, more meaningful conversations at the outset.

It can be quite annoying and upsetting after going through a bad time, for someone who really ought to know you well to ask ‘Are you feeling better?’.

They’ve almost certainly said it innocently and with good intention but, unfortunately, in the mind of the receiver this very innocent little question can often translate itself into something similar to: ‘I’m really not sure there was anything terribly wrong with you anyway, but I’m assuming you’re now over it’.

Perhaps it may be quite presumptuous to interpret it in this way, but that’s the danger of closed questions. They make assumptions. They discourage meaningful answers. And they can make people annoyed or upset.

So if you really want to know how your friend, child or partner is feeling, please do the proper open-ended thing, ask ‘How are you feeling?’, then you’re more likely to get the truth from them.

And remember, it’s good for us to connect with others. The more we do it, the better we’re likely to feel.

So, was that useful? or, How was that useful? Whichever you decide, I hope it was useful in some way.

If you’re struggling with communication in your relationships, Quay Therapy is here to help.

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