The Power of Open-Ended Questions
When someone asks us a good question, we’re able to recognize our inner response immediately: the endorphin kicks in, ideas are coming, we become curious and we suddenly start thinking on a totally new level. The question leads us to a quest and the quest leads us to discovering new territories. We all have within us the ability to expand our mind in order to think about what is truly important to us.
Most of the questions, however, can’t initiate this process. The questions may lead us into the past, demanding us to explain, justify or rationalize our choices, way of thinking and results. Such questions often lead us right into an enchanted circle. Questions may also be the simple ones, why / because questions, also leading us back to the past, or the ones aiming at specific details, such as “Would you pass me the salt?” Good questions have coherent structure that you can learn to use over and over again.
Good questions are designed in a way to engage people and make them think something thoroughly, find their own answers about the life situation they are in, which helps them in building, expanding and applying their knowledge.
In that way, we help clients to give deeper and greater meaning to their lives and move forward day by day, staying true to themselves and their values. Good questions lead people towards defining their deepest purpose and personal goals. This process can be compared to opening a tap. The tap of open-ended questions can be open just a little bit, making questions tiny water drops, but it can be open to the fullest, letting the stream of open-ended questions out, which will engage a person in the conversation.
The power of the open-ended questions is in initiating the flow-state of our counterparts, by putting them into continuous state of thinking and creating new insights. In other words, anyone can clearly recognize the difference between energizing questions that initiate searching for new options, and the ones that don’t. Coaching, that is aimed at finding a solution, discovers how to overcome the barriers of our inner motivation. In only three weeks of dedicated exercise you can become an artist in asking open-ended questions. Soon you will be able to make your own assessment regarding how much each question you ask affects the people you talk to.
The closed questions
Giving advices is intended to help the person become better, but considering the fact that it implies an assumption that people are not good the way they are, counselling is not the best possible choice for supporting a person in the process of personal or professional development. On the other hand, asking open-ended questions stimulates curiosity and initiates inner resources, deep thinking, and opens the door for further studying and discovering your true self. The most important thing is to make sure that asking open-ended questions provides a person with the possibility of letting go of their fears, as well as various limiting beliefs about life or themselves. By asking the open-ended questions, we enable people to reach their own integrated beliefs and solutions for concrete life situations. Answers to closed questions are limited to yes/no answers or give information regarding a concrete situation. Regardless of whether it is about the first or the second option, the closed questions have the tendency to cut the communication out and terminate the conversation. In contrast, the open-ended questions lead to deeper thinking, they demand a different level of thinking and lead people to honest and true answers.
Discovering your own answers
Through open-ended questions we invite people to relax, to listen to themselves better, to gain a clear insight into the situation from their own perspective and start going towards searching for new options, far away from limiting yes/no and either/or answers, various limitations and prejudice. In the zone of the open-ended questions, people are able to discover new creative ideas that can inspire and initiate learning new things. On the opposite side, we have challenges from the past and reasons in favor and against taking a certain action. When the open-ended questions are with focus on the future, they lead people towards a new vision, by activating vivid images of what they want. For a coach, open-ended questions are very important, because through them the respect towards a client is demonstrated, they imply that the person we work with is capable of finding his/her own answer. Such type of reinforcing implies that a client has strengths, resources and solutions, to function on his/her own in this world, as well as the potential to understand and accept this world as well. Starting with this position of deep trust and respect, people are able to discover their own answers for various life situations.
The tone of asking the open-ended questions
Good open-ended questions are often shaped in a way to invite a client to accept it thoroughly and think about a potential answer. If an open-ended question isn’t formulated in a soft, warm and motivating way, with an open and curious tone, the person might see it as criticism or manipulation, leading towards a defensive reaction and a negative impact on client. The tone presents a very important part of communicating a message, especially when the questions that tackle the essentials are asked. A soft and supporting tone significantly reduces the possibilities of initiating a defensive reaction. The message we intend to send to our counterpart is: “This person cares about me and really wants me to take part in this”. As you can see, there are many reasons why you should use open-ended questions. With a lot of practice, you will master the skill of asking the open-ended questions. Then, you will be able to understand your client much better than before.
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