Not all questions are created equal. An effective question is one that is

– Open ended (difficult to answer yes or no), and

– Requires the responder to THINK (eventually you will be forgiven).

That is think, as in “to use the mind to consider ideas and make judgments, to imagine or understand something or the possibility of something.” (From Encarta® World English Dictionary.)

Examples of effective questions:

What do you want to accomplish? What is your goal, your desired result?

How will you know when you have achieved it? How will it feel? Look? What will be different? Better?

What are the specific steps required? What resources are required? Whose help will you need? How do you intend to get it?

How does this belief/behavior serve you or others? How does it make your life better?

How can you use this experience? What is the lesson to be learned? How can this feeling/event be re-framed to better serve you?

What are you best at? How do you do that? Where do you need help?

Effective questions should never be intimidating, rambling, or repetitive. By definition these are not effective, other than in eroding confidence or trust or stressing the relationship.

For an effective question to achieve its full potential, one must LISTEN attentively to the answer (no interruptions). By waiting respectfully, one communicates value and builds trust. Appropriate consideration should be given to the response before launching into another question or evaluating the response. Rapid-fire questions are not effective.

The goal of an effective question is to spark creativity and innovative approaches, to create clarity around goals, directions, or values, to bring to the surface what might have been concealed or to reveal the previously unknown, to send thoughts in new directions.

I have grown fond of asking myself effective questions, particularly when stressed. I find it a wonderful way to create clarity in my thinking, to imaginatively redeploy my thoughts in a productive direction.

Other types/classifications of questions:

Open: Question does not invite any particular answer, but opens up discussion or elicits a wide range of answers for creative problem solving. Open questions encourage the speaker. They elicit a more detailed response than closed questions. “What” and “Why” usually are helpful starts to open questions.

Closed: Question is specific and must be answered with a yes or no, or with details as appropriate.

Fact-Finding: Question is aimed at getting information on a particular subject.

Follow-Up: Question is intended to get more information or to elicit an opinion.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive. Originally posted March 17, 2008.