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Stuart Avis

DP World London Gateway

Learning and Development Officer

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Questioning techniques


I am designing some training on recruitment and part of the session will be about the different types of questions that can be asked i.e. open closed, probing etc. 

I would like to included an activity that will demonstrate the power that these different types of questions can have and the different reactions that you would get when asking these types of questions.

Currently I am at a bit of a creative block and would welcome any thoughts or ideas about how this could be done or what you have used before which worked well. I would imagine the section would take no more than 20 minutes

Many thanks


8 Responses

  1. Friday
    Hi Stuart…working away at the moment but if you can wait till Friday I have just the thing! PM me your email address.

  2. Question of questions

    We have an exercise you can have on the use of OPEN questions -great fun .It captures listening skills  and observation too. Just PM me your e mail address.Nothing fancy in format -just a plain word doc

  3. I have a secret!

    Hi Stuart

    One quick exercise I have done as a starter for this sort of session is to tell the group that I have an interesting hobby/interest/other role/unusual fact that they need to discover by asking me questions.  I usually use the fact that I am a magistrate or that I used to live abroad, but you could use anything really – you may have run a marathon, you may have just had a baby, moved house or won a prize in the lottery.

    I then open the floor for questions – they nearly always start off asking loads of short, closed questions (is it this, is it that, did you do this etc etc) and I am absolutely strict in answering closed questions with a single word.  Eventually the penny drops and people start asking open questions (eg how does this fact affect your life, how long have you been doing it etc). Then I become much more helpful, even to the point of going on and on in response to an open question.  This illustrates the point that open questions are great to get things started but then you have to start probing and being more precise with your questions. They have always found out my secret so far!

    I then wrap it up by asking them what would have been the one question they could have asked that would have got them the answer straightaway – ie "what is this interesting fact about yourself?" – no one has ever asked that in the first part of the exercise yet!!

    Hope that helps.


  4. Word search

    Hi Stuart

    I have done the following exercise on numerous occasions and it works well. I think of any word from the dictionary and write it down. I then ask the group to ask me questions in turn to try and find out what the word is. I tell them that the only questions they can't ask are "What is the word?" and anything to do with the spelling e.g "What's the first letter?" etc.

    Almost without fail, they start to ask closed questions "Is it ……?"

    Eventually they will get the word, sometimes after more than 50 questions. As with Jenny's exercise above, I answer what has been asked so if it's a closed question they get a one word answer.

    Once they get the word, we then go into discussions about the different types of questions or whatever you want to do. Following that I run the exercise again with a different word and they usually get it within about 4 or 5 questions.



  5. But Does It Work?

    Stuart – Can I suggest a course of action before you go ahead and train people in these techniques?

    The Huthwaite Research Group undertook a study (in a sales context) of the use and benefit of using open and closed questions. Their findings appear to indicate that this approach appears to have very limited benefits, if any. A quote from the work states:

    "Conventional probing does not work / Probing (sales jargon for asking questions) is supposed to uncover customer needs. To achieve this, traditional training identifies two types of question: Closed questions, which have yes/no answers; and Open questions, which require a longer answer. While this may seem logical, the research shows that, in practice, human nature intervenes and 60% of Closed questions receive long answers anyway!"
    A summary of their findings can be found here:
    The subject has also been raised in previous postings here on Trainingzone, the details are here:
    I personally stopped teaching people this approach when I started to research the evidence for its validity, which if you do the same you will discover to be of questionable value.
    Good Luck. 


  6. For what it’s worth

    For what it's worth, the documents I sent to Stuart had nothing to do with open and closed questions as I also believe that it's an outdated approach.

  7. not a closed or open question in the house but a useful exercise

    you have a group of delegates (number is unimportant)

    The delegates are a doctor….yes all the delegates represent one doctor.

    I'm a patient

    the doctor needs to diagnose my problem.  The doctor  (in the guise of delegate #1) start with a question that relates to my stated symptoms. I answer and delegate #2 has to ask a logical follow on question based upong the answer I gave, or if he or she genuinely believes that the answer I gave finished the topic they can start a new line of questioning.  This continues until they have got to the root cause of the problem.

    My stated symptoms are nausea, shortness of breath, inability to sleep and headaches….that is what I told the receptionist when I made the appointment.

    (the delegates don't yet know but I have recently taken early retirement/redundancy.  I have no financial worries.  I am 53, a bit overweight (but I've lost a couple of stone over the past couple of years), I don't smoke.  I don't drink a lot.  I've started walking a lot more since I stopped work.  I've also returned to my childhood hobby of model railways.  A mate and I spend Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons building a track layout in my garage.  We are using glues and paints in the closed room.  I only get the headaches and sleeplessness on the weekends, and the shortness of breath on Mondays and Tuesdays)  

    The exercise sounds a bit silly but it has worked everytime Ive used it (about 12 to date) on recruitment interveiwing courses.

    I hope that helps



  8. Huthwaites research relates to selling NOT recruitment, but…..

    it does still seem to be pretty compelling and a brilliant resource; thanks for posting it, Garry! just what I  was looking for!



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Stuart Avis

Learning and Development Officer

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