Want to open the door of dialogue? Don’t use closed questions!


Someone asked me the other day in the ToP facilitation skills training: “Aren’t closed questions sometimes more efficient and effective?” The answer to that question, is yes! Often closed questions get you the speedy response YOU want. The real question is what is the impact of a closed question on the person you are talking with? (by the way, did you note that their question to me was closed?)

What kind of impact do you want your questions to have on people?

If you want lasting, deeply connecting relationships, we invite you to reflect on and monitor how you are asking questions. This blog has two short videos full of tips and an exercise for you to test out this theory yourself. The exercise is fun we promise.

Example of Closed Questions

To make the point, I’m going to break my own rule and first ask you two closed and leading questions:

1. Does your question force a person to come up with the answer that you want from them?
2. Does your question convey in any way, that you don’t really care about their answer?

How do you react to these two questions?

• A little defensive?
• Indignant?
• Shut down?

Yes – my point exactly! That is because they were closed AND leading or non-neutral questions.

Now the Open Questions

If I turn the above closed, AND very leading questions above to open ended, more neutral ones, they might sound and look like this:

1. What would be most helpful to learn about this person’s thinking, feelings, needs or wants?
2. What kind of relationship do you want to have with this person?

To think more about this, take a look at this 2.50 minute video to get started and hear my colleague and friend, conflict resolution expert, Rangineh Azimzadeh Tosang, MA, CPF, reflect with me on how to use open ended questions in conflict situations and more!

What are some things you can do to build awareness of when you use a closed questioning style?

Here are Rangineh’s top three suggestions for becoming much more skillful in relating to people and keeping the dialogue door open through your choice of questions:

    1. 1. Do a “research project” on yourself that entails watching for when your questions open people up – become aware of your own questioning style. Think back each day in your journal when you sensed a really good conversation where the other person really opened up their thinking because of something you asked. What was your exact question?
    1. 2. Watch how long you get to actually asking the questions.Get to your question quickly. Don’t give a long context or monologue style build up to your actual question.
    1. 3. Use questions that probe people to reflect on their own thinking. Typical examples include: What led you to make that decision? How did you arrive at that conclusion? Or even the phrase, tell me more about your thinking. She says, “In conflict, getting people to share their thinking, tells you more about how to help them”

We have more TIPS below on exactly what words to use and not use in ensuring questions that keep the doors open for meaningful and productive dialogue. If you can recall at least a few conversations which went nowhere with your children, partner, parent, friends or employees, you will not regret spending four minutes watching this video. And, we offer you two fun year end power planning questions that might be very revealing! You get to see them asked in the open ended fashion first and then the closed ended fashion. See how each feels for you and make your own conclusions about this.

To conclude…

Asking questions is a beautiful way to engage people. Don’t miss out on incredible opportunities to learn important and meaningful information because you simply cannot be bothered to change how frequently you use closed questions. And do not feel badly, when you gain this new awareness. They are used not only by you but by everyone around you. Me included. It is time to retrain ourselves and as a result, my guess is that our families, workplaces and communities and the world at large will become more peaceful. What else might motivate you to change your questioning style?

P.S. Did you also notice our blog title was a closed question? Just checking… 🙂


Rangineh Azimzadeh Tosang
Solh Resolutions International

Note: For the next little while, we will remind you who will most benefit from a blog. Today’s blog is written for those at stage 3 (i.e., The Explorer) of the facilitative leader journey. It will also be a helpful refresher if you are at stages 4-7 of the journey. What are we talking about? Get our FREE download on the 9 stages of the facilitator journey below!


Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

Leave a Comment