Open and Closed Questions: What’s the Difference?

A question is a question, right?  There really isn’t a difference between open and closed questions, is there?  Take a look at the brief conversation below:

Bob: “Are you satisfied with the prototype?”
John: “Not exactly.”
Bob: “Could you suggest some changes?”
John: “Hmm. Well. No, not really.”
Bob: “Should we speak about this later?”
John: “No, thanks.”

Any questions ?

Open and Closed Questions

Do you notice a trend here? Yes, it seems that John is a slightly boring conversation partner. However, on the other hand, Bob doesn’t seem to be asking the right questions. All of his questions are closed questions. Closed questions require only a yes or no answer. When we need information from customers and clients, it might be more useful to focus on open questions. These are questions that give our conversation partner the chance to give us more information. Open questions are an important conversation tool and can help us get the details we need to do the job right. Below, you’ll find some closed questions and an alternative, open version of the question.

Closed questions:
1. Did you read the report I sent you?
2. Do you agree with what Mr Smith said?
3. Do you like the proposal?
4. Do you have any questions?
5. Is price an important factor in this decision?
6. Can we move forward with the project now?

These questions above are grammatically correct, but they can be improved to give your colleague or client the chance to speak. Asking open questions is a win-win: you get the information you need, and your client or colleague feels that he or she has the opportunity to talk to you and really share his or her opinions.

Open questions:
1. What did you think about the report I sent you?
2. What’s your opinion about what Mr Smith said?
3. What are your thoughts on the proposal?
4. What questions do you have?
5. Could you tell me about your budget?
6. What’s your timeline for this project?

Using Open Questions for Results

Now that we’ve seen some open and closed questions, let’s re-visit John and Bob’s conversation and improve Bob’s questions.

Bob: “What did you think about the prototype?”
John: “I thought the design was quite good, but in terms of functionality, it’s still not what we need.”
Bob: “How can we improve it?”
John: “I have to say functionality is the most important thing at this point. The design is fine, but we need better performance.”
Bob: “When would be a good time to meet to discuss the next steps?”
John: “I’m free tomorrow at 1 o’ clock. Does that work for you?”

With the help of open questions, John gives Bob the feedback he needs to improve the product.  Please feel free to share your comments in the comments section below.

Chad Phillips

Chad Phillips