Asking Questions - To Open Up or Close Down?

Asking questions (link to Learning counseling and problem-solving skills By Leslie E. Borck, Stephen B. Fawcett) - open and closed - is an important tool in the counseling kit. They can help a person open up or close them down.

An open question is one that is used in order to gathering lots of information – you ask it with the intent of getting a long answer.

A closed question is one used to gather specific information - it can normally be answered with either a single word or a short phrase. Good basic counsel skills to know!

Open-Ended Questions (OEQs) have no correct answer and require an explanation of sorts. The who-what-where-why-when-how questions your English teacher taught you to ask? Little did she know you’d be using them for asking questions in counseling! Here are some good ones:

• What brought you in here today?

• Do you have an idea about why this keeps happening?

• What is your Plan B?

• How does that make you feel?

You’ll notice that I didn’t use “why?” directly. This is because some people find it threatening and overwhelming. It implies judgment and it can be asking an unanswerable question.

Open Ended Questions are great for:

• Starting the information gathering part of the session

• Keeping the client talking

Closed Questions (CQs) are those that can easily be answered with a “yes” or a “no” or brief information. For example:

• What is your name and date of birth?

• Did you call the health practitioner to set up a physical?

• Where do you work? Occupation?

• Are you ready to stop doing that?!

They sound a little harsh, but are needed:

• For getting necessary information

• To get bring a chatty client back on track or interrupt her/him.

You’re going to take a few minutes right now and practice asking questions! Don’t worry, asking questions will soon be as natural as breathing.

In Class Homework

Trying Out Open Ended Questions (OEQs) and Closed Questions (CQs): 10 minutes of questioning and 5 minutes of feedback

Listener - Get ready to actively listen and get into your encouraging body language.

Ask an OEQ like, “Was there anything particularly interesting that happened within the past few days?” You want them to go on at some length.

Speaker - Talk away!

After a few minutes, the listener can try to constrain or redirect conversation by asking a CQ such as “Does this make you feel good or bad?” You are looking for an either/or answer.

Listener, ask another OEQ, followed by a CQ a few minutes later.

Speaker, be helpful, ok? :)


1. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of an OEQ?

2. What impression did you have when asked a CQ?


1. Was it easy or difficult to ask OEQs?

2. How about CQs?

You may have noticed that quiet people need lots of OEQs and chatty people need more CQs!

Out of Class Homework

Be very conscious of asking questions - the kinds you ask and why you do so? Notice how you feel when asked an Open or Closed question?

A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights. - Brian Tracy

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