The Power of Open Questions

Central to successful human interaction is the ability to ask good questions. Through questions you can learn what someone is really thinking, feeling, planning and more.

Most people do not ask the right kind of questions when it comes to information gathering. If your questions can be answered with "yes" or "no", you are probably not getting as much information as you could if you would ask open questions. Open questions cannot be answered with "yes" or "no".

Yes and No Question Openers
If you start your questions with these words, you are very likely asking a yes or no question:

  • Do – Do you think the server is the problem?
  • Did – Did you reinstall the ODBC drivers?
  • Are – Are you planning to install that new driver?
  • Will – Will you be at the security training class?
  • Were – Were you the one who updated the anti-virus definitions?
  • Should – Should we consider an upgrade?

Open Question Openers
If you start your questions with these words, you are probably asking open questions:

  • What – What do you think the problem is?
  • Where – Where did you put the ODBC drivers?
  • When – When will you be installing that new driver?
  • Why – Why do you think we should attend the security training class?
  • How – How should we do the upgrade?

Do you see the difference? (yes/no)

How do you think you can apply this knowledge? (with users, managers, consultants and vendors)

As you can see in these last two examples, yes and no questions can work as leaders to open questions. There is certainly a place for yes and no questions, but they are not the most powerful information gathering questions.

Examples of Open Question Rephrases
Here are a few examples of commonly asked yes or no questions rephrased as open questions:

  • Did you do anything to the computer before it stopped working? (yes/no)
  • What happened to the computer before it stopped working? (open)


  • Are there any problems I should know about before buying this software? (yes/no)
  • What are the biggest problems you've had with this software? (open)


  • Have you worked with other companies in the same industry as ours? (yes/no)
  • What other companies have you worked with in this industry? (open)


  • Did you try rebooting? (yes/no)
  • What have you tried so far? (open)


  • Do you see the picture I'm painting in this article? (yes/no)
  • What is the picture this article is painting in your mind? (open)

In summary, let me remind you of the important facts. There are times when we want to use yes and no questions; however, you'll gather more valuable information by asking open questions. Learn to rephrase your questions as open questions and you'll become a much better technical communicator.

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