Exercises to Develop Good Questioning Techniques

By Al Bondigas

Role playing and reconstructing childhood tales can help you develop questioning techniques.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether you're picking someone's brain or interviewing an applicant, the skill of asking good questions can't be overrated when running a business. If you hesitate, continually look at your notes or interrupt the flow of conversation, your questions won't yield the best results. Good questioning technique can always be improved, and there are several exercises that will boost your skills. If you include your managers and employees in your question-development exercises, their performances will also see improvement.

Developing Closed Questions

Closed-ended questions are answered with a "yes" or "no," and can be used in a quick exchange. The old “20 Questions” game is good for developing and asking closed questions. Try a few rounds of this game with some friends, choosing a person or animal as the targeted answer. This game doesn’t work well with scripted questions, and you must vary your line of questioning depending on what you find out.

Developing Open Questions

An open question won’t have a simple answer. It’s often a “why” or “how” question, but these are effective when trying to dig below the surface. The answers will be longer and will give you a better feel for what someone really thinks. Open questions are more conversational in nature, so their effectiveness depends on your social skills. Just engaging in conversations and asking questions will get you used to the flow of open questions.

Role Playing and Questioning Technique

Again with friends, pick up a childhood tale that everyone knows -- for example, the "Three Little Pigs." With your friends taking on various roles, “interview” the characters. Why did the pig build his house out of straw? How did the wolf know he could blow that house down? A good line of questioning covers open and closed questions. Let your imagination take over.

Feedback Through Reconstruction

Taking your example from the childhood tale, try to retell it with just what you found out during in your questioning. Your reconstructions will be partial at first, but as you continue this practice, you will get better. If some aspect of your reconstruction is lacking, you'll have an idea of where you need to improve your questioning.

Preparation With Room To Improvise

The best questions are asked when you have an idea of what the answer is. Try brainstorming your core questions in advance. The best questions usually come up on the spot as you follow the person’s narrative.

Staying Engaged

Taking notes can interrupt the flow of your line of questioning, especially if you take your eyes off the person you're talking to. Practice writing your notes without looking at them, and see if you can read them later. This may be easier if you use a smaller, 5x7 legal pad or a 4x10 spiral notebook.