Businessman Tony Robbins once said, “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” That statement seems to ring true; but how do you craft a better question?

It is far easier to ask closed-ended questions. A closed-ended question is one that can be answered with a single word like “yes” or “no.”

“Did you like the workshop today?” is an example of such a question. Its one-word response, either “yes” or “no,” really does not give us much useful information. It also allows the other person the opportunity to end the conversation; these closed-ended questions are potentially conversation killers.

Instead, turn that question into an open-ended inquiry: “Tell me something you liked about the workshop today.” An alternative might be, “Tell me something about the workshop today that you thought could have been handled better.” The person who answers either of these questions cannot simply give a single word and walk away. Even more importantly, the information you will receive will be far more useful. Better yet, the answer you receive will lead to a conversation, assuming that is what you are looking for.

Ask a TED question

A simple trick to asking the open-ended conversation stater is to remember the acronym TED. Start each question with the words Tell, Explain, or Describe. Starting a question with TED makes it impossible to respond with a simple one word answer. TED forces the respondent to go deeper and provide more information; often, the answers will also be accompanied by a story. The key to starting a conversation is to really listen to the story and look for key words that may lead to another open-ended question. We will talk about the art of listening in detail in future articles.

Tell me WHY?

I know several experts (me included) who would argue that what you really want is the WHY. For example, find out why the client liked, or did not like, the workshop. The problem with the why questions is that they can sound defensive; it is important to understand why. I suggest using different language in order to uncover why. For example, “Help me, by Explaining what you mean when you said ‘the speaker did not capture my imagination.'” This question gets to the heart of why, without sounding defensive, and will surely elicit a deeper response.

Asking Better questions leads to better answers, which will start a conversation!

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