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Keep it open… and you may be surprised by the response

May 9, 2010

An old boss of mine once told me that if a client was interested in a topic, I needed to be fascinated by it. And he was absolutely right!

Being completely focused on the person you’re having a conversation with is a fundamental listening skill – but it takes more than good intent to generate meaningful dialogue. You need to ask the right questions.

We can divide questions into two camps. There are those that can be answered in one word and typically shut down conversations – ‘closed’ questions and those that open it up to endless possibility – ‘open’ questions.

Closed questions typically start with words and phrases such as ‘Did you…?’ or ‘Are you…? Or ‘Is it…?’ For example, ‘Did you enjoy the footy game last night?’ Closed questions are useful if you’re looking for confirmation of a specific piece of information but if you’re looking to generate interest you would be much better off by asking an ‘open’ question such as “What aspect of last night’s game did you enjoy most?”

Open questions typically begin with ‘How…?’, ‘Why…?’, ‘What…?’ or ‘Where…?’Open  questions are an invitation for the other person to express their view or explore their ideas, allowing you, the listener, to take an active interest in what they have to say – or be ‘fascinated’ in the words of my old boss.

What do you think?

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