Closed up for clarity

by | Aug 6, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

Open source. Open standards. Open communications.

The work world is opening up.

Yet, don’t dump all closed things—especially closed-ended questions.

(As a refresher, closed-ended questions are those that limit the types of answers respondents can give, such as “yes,” “no,” or multiple choice in a survey. By contrast, open-ended questions ask respondents to provide the information that that believe best answers the question, either as a survey write-in or during conversation. Respondents have the freedom and autonomy to divulge what they want.)

Open-ended questions are valuable for getting people to open up (Duh!) and share material, initially top of mind and then more detailed as they continue to talk. For example, the “magic wand” question almost always stimulates great information as people start to think bigger and bolder. You can ask:  What if you had a magic wand and could fix this problem. What would be different?

When asking open-ended questions, skilled interviewers will quietly acknowledge respondents with an “hmm,” “yes,” or “that’s interesting” to keep them talking and plumbing for richer opinions and observations. Interviewers also will ask follow-up questions. The insights that the interviewees and interviewers get are invaluable for getting clarity around a topic.

However, closed-ended questions in conversations—not just on surveys—can help drive for clarity too, especially when the questions include a scale.

Some closed-ended questions that I’ve been finding particularly helpful lately in my coaching and consulting work are:

On a scale of 1 -10 with “1” being low and “10” being high:

  • How clear is your thinking about this issue?
  • How committed are you to taking action on this issue?
  • (After asking about the action) If you were to take this action, how likely would it to help you achieve your goal?
  • How likely will you take this action by insert a specific date?
  • How easy will it be for you to take this action by insert the date?

These questions are a form of thinking questions, designed to help an individual stop, reflect and focus on the quality of the thinking he or she has devoted to the topic to date.

As I learned from David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute about the power of thinking questions, these questions help individuals slow down, quiet their brain and become more self-aware. They also take more responsibility for their thoughts and actions, including deciding what will be best for them to do next.

Thinking questions can be open or closed. As a trained investigative reporter who then moved into organizations, I have always valued open-ended questions. In fact, as much as possible, I shied away from closed-ended ones.

Yet, having experienced the brain-based training, I now appreciate the value of closed-ended questions. They, as well as other thinking questions, help people recognize the qualities of their thinking. The addition of the scale draws attention to the patterns around their thinking and actions. This in turn helps people make new connections in their brains, which contribute to overall improved thinking.

What do you think about closed-ended questions?

Or, the better question to illustrate my point is: On a scale of 1 -10 with “1” being low and “10” being high, How likely are you to try using more closed-ended questions now?

Tell me. And be sure to ask me if you want help.


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