4 Tutorials that teach Asking Clarifying Questions
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Asking Clarifying Questions

Asking Clarifying Questions

Author: Marlene Johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will be able to ask appropriate and effective questions to better understand a communication or situation.

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Knowing when and how to ask the right kinds of questions is a very important skill in communication, and it's also a very key skill in conflict resolution. I'm Marlene, and today I would like to talk with you about four different kinds of questions you can use to get information and clarify your understanding of what's happened.

These questions are yes/no questions, short answer, leading questions, and open-ended questions. Let me give you an example of each kind. The yes/no question is a very simple way to confirm facts. You simply want a yes or no. You want to confirm that something happened. For example, you might say to your neighbor, did you visit that new restaurant last weekend? Yes or no? Just a simple yes/no response.

The short answer question is not to confirm information, but to reveal a few more facts, but just a short answer. It could be a single word, or just something short. You might say, was it difficult to find parking at that new restaurant? Yes or no, or very short answer-- we drove around the block a couple times, but we found a place. That's the short answer, getting a few more facts here.

Then we have the leading question. The leading question is a very interesting kind of question because of the way you phrase it. It's a bit like the yes/no question in that you want to confirm something, but you want to confirm your own belief or assumption. So you put your own belief into the question. So you might say something like, don't you think the prices are a little high at that restaurant for what you get? Clearly you have an opinion here about the restaurant and the prices and the food, and you are putting the assumption that you're going to get agreement here from your friend into the way you phrase the question. That's the leading question.

Then we have the open-ended question. An open-ended question simply is a question that you would ask when you want to elicit more information and you want a detailed response to something. And there's no bias here, and it's more than yes or no in the response. You might say to your neighbor, tell me, how did you like that restaurant, or what was your experience like when you went to the restaurant last weekend? Now you've invited your friend to simply tell you what her experience was like at the restaurant, how she liked the restaurant. That would be the open-ended question. You want someone to talk, and you want more information.

All four of these kinds of questions do have a purpose, and you can use them to get different kinds of information. In a conflict situation, you can confirm facts about what happened. Was Joe with you at the school yard when the fight broke out? Yes or no? Short answer question, you want to glean a little more information. How many of your friends were involved in the fight? Were any of your friends involved in the fight? You want to know who was involved. Did you know any of them? Short answer.

Then there's the leading question. Perhaps you want to check out an assumption here in this question. Was bullying involved at all in what happened in the schoolyard fight, or don't you think bullying was involved in the fighting that broke out? So you're asking a question here that's a bit leading to get the person to talk about bullying and the fight. And then, of course, you have the open-ended question, where you simply might ask, tell me what you think caused the fight. Tell me what you think.

Any of these questions can be very useful depending on the kind of information you want to elicit. A very important thing to remember is how you ask the question. Are you wanting to get information in a way that shows that you're truly curious and not biased, you simply want to know more, or are you asking a question in a very challenging way that could put someone off? For example, you might be talking to someone who is going to buy a new car, and you say, well, don't you think that caris a little expensive for you right now to buy? That's clearly a challenging question and also a leading question. But it could put your friend here that you're talking to on the defense.

Another way that you might ask the question that would be more open ended would be, now that you've decided to buy a new car, can you tell me what went into your decision here? Why did you choose this car? Now you're inviting the person to tell me why they made that choice, to tell you why they made the choice.

Leading questions can sometimes come across as challenging, because they do have your own belief or assumption or bias within the question. So you need to be careful when we use those kinds of questions. But all four of these questions do have a use. They can be helpful in getting the right kind of information at the right time.

Thank you for joining me, and I look forward to next time.

  • Yes/No Question

    A question used to confirm facts, answered by a yes or no.

  • Short Answer Question

    A question used to reveal facts, answered by a single word or brief statement.

  • Leading Question

    A question asked to confirm or disconfirm an assumption or belief of the asker, usually phrased with the speaker's belief as part of the question.

  • Open Ended Question

    A question asked to elicit a detailed explanation of a situation, answered with a detailed statement.