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AI Assisted Specifications Writing Workshop

Asking Good Questions

Open Questions vs. Closed Questions

The two most basic elements of good communication are asking questions and listening to others. Our first topic will be asking good questions.

There are two kinds of questions: open and closed.

Closed questions are those that can be answered by either yes or no, or with a specific bit of data, such as your name, date of birth, or occupation. These questions restrict our responses and give us little opportunity to develop our thoughts. As a result, they require little effort and can even close down a conversation.

This type of question tends to get over-used, partially because they require very little effort on the questioner’s part as well. They are easy to phrase and we get quick answers. Unfortunately such questions also can lead us to assume, and assumptions can be big barriers to good communication.

Open questions, on the other hand, encourage people to talk. These questions are phrased so they cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Open questions often begin with a variation of the five W’s, (who, what, when, where, why), or can ask how.

Questions are used to:

  • Get information
  • Focus conversations
  • Solicit opinions
  • Gain consensus

Closed questions begin the closing process. The unintentional use of a closed question can often be overcome by the simple expedient of following it with a simple open question. For example:

  • “Do you feel that was the right thing to do?”
  • “Yes, I do.”
  • “Can you help me understand why you feel that way?”

There are several different types of open-ended questions. The most useful are probing questions that search for more information, and investigate in more detail.

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