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Asking Questions

types of questions

Questioning allows us to gather information from others. When done skilfully this enables us to really get to the heart of things very quickly.  It develops understanding and deeper relationships.  However, like listening it is a skill that we need to improve. And if you are a sales or customer service professional, asking good questions helps not only to know exactly what your customer wants, but also build better rapport with customers as well.

Types of Question:
There are really only two types of question, open and closed, but subordinate types can be used for specific purposes. Whilst no one wants to sound mechanical when asking questions it can be useful to be aware of the different types.

Open Questions
Usually start with words such as How? What? Where? When? Why? Who? Which? And cannot be politely answered by simply saying “Yes” or “No”. Try it.

They are used to engage people in a transaction and to draw information out.

Closed Questions
These usually expect the answer “Yes” or “No” and are good for establishing facts using words such as Do you ..? Will you ..? Can you ..? Is it ..?

They are leading questions but as long as they are not threatening, intensive or too challenging can help build co-operation.

Fact Finding Questions
These tend to be closed questions to establish facts - “How many staff do you have?” “Which is the best road to take from here?”

Clarifying Questions
You rephrase things so you understand better – “Am I right in saying …?” “Are you saying ..?”

Developmental Questions
These increase the amount of information you gather – “Can you expand ..?” “Could you give me an example ..?”

Testing Questions
These are used to assess a person’s position and are usually closed questions – “Is that important to you?” “What is your reaction to that?”

Mirror Questions
Repeating part of what a person has said to develop a clearere understanding of what they want.
“I could help you if I had enough materials.”
”Enough materials?”
“Yes. Paper, pens, computers …”

Closing Questions
Used to draw a discussion to a close or close a sale – “So, what’s the next step?” “Which colour would you like?”

If you are going to frame questions then you need to know that open and closed questions start with specific words...


Question Types – When to use them and when to avoid them



Not useful


"What happened ....." Encourages the individual talk.



Most openings

To explore areas and gather information

With talkative individuals.  Where discipline is required, or time short.


"Exactly what happened next?".  Vital for detail; follows 'open' Q. to clarify what the individual means.


Checking information

Exploring emotionally charged areas.


"Was it delivered on Tuesday?"  Narrow; establishes specific points and facts.


Probing single facts

Gaining information in broad terms.


 "You feel upset about the situation. Very powerful.  Repeat back verbatim the emotional content of a person's statement.


Problem solving.

Emotionally charged situations

Checking information and facts.


 "I suppose you're sorry now are you?"  Invariably leads to the answer you expect.


Gaining compliance

Gaining information about an individual.


"What would you do if...?"  Posing a hypothetical situation in the future.


Getting customers to consider new products, procedures or a solution to the problem

With individuals or situations need time to give a reasoned reply.


"That's interesting but I'd like to move onto look at ...."


To change directions

Can be used too soon before the topic has been satisfactorily explored.


String of questions/responses






Advanced Questioning:
It is possible to become even more focussed in asking questions.....this can be done by thinking about which category of question you want to use and then an appropriate question.


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Categorising Questions

It seems that every sales or customer service training program includes a section on questioning.  Most people are therefore aware of the difference between open and closed questions.

Knowing the difference is a great start; using questions effectively at the right time and in the right way is another. To help focus on asking the right question at the right time – neither closed or open questions are ‘good’ all the time – try using this question categorisation technique.

The four categories are: WOQ NOQ TOQ SOQ

1.       WOQ Wide open questions

 These are the questions that get loads of information and get a conversation going.

e.g.  Tell me about your job?  How do you spend your time at the weekend?


2.         NOQ Narrow open questions

These questions focus on getting specific information. They can bring a one-word answer, so they can be like closed questions.


How much do you usually pay each month?

How hungry are you?

3.         TOQ Two option questions

Sometimes called alternative questions these must be used selectively in customer contact situations. Their use is to direct the answer you want someone to give you. 

Which phone are you going for, the Nokia or the Motorola?

Shall we have a Chinese take-away or fish and chips for supper?


4.         SOQ Single option questions

These are closed questions. They seek to get a Yes or a No answer and are used to confirm information or seek commitment.


Do you currently own a mobile?


Are you coming for a drink after work?




Putting it all together in a funnell  

 Deciphering the ‘true’ message relies upon the skills of listening actively / protectively and asking the right questions. ‘Funnelling’ is a tried and tested technique which can be used to get to ‘the heart of the matter.’

Funnelling Technique

The opening question gains a broad general answer. By listening for key words or feelings you seek more specific information by asking a probing question. The questioning follows progressively until you have a clear understanding and all the information you require.


The final stage is to summarise the information gained to ensure that you have a clear understanding. 

Colleagues who are quiet and unwilling to talk can be encouraged by using supportive statements, like 'that's interesting', or noises like 'Uh huh'.  Repeating key words also encourages the customer to give more detail, without you asking too many questions.

If you are faced with someone who does not stop talking and does not get to the point - ask closed questions. 

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