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What do you love about this article? The importance of asking open ended questions.
Marisol Weaver, MHC Wellspring Counseling Inc.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
There is no denying it; good communication is the key to any type of relationship.
Communication consists of both talking and listening. It involves sharing ourselves and learning about others. The best way to learn about others is by asking questions. Too often we ask just enough questions to get by, but never enough to see any growth in the relationship. We have to make an effort to learn how to ask the right kind of questions that will lead us to a deeper understanding of one another, which allows greater respect and trust to develop in the relationship. Asking open-ended questions helps obtain this deeper understanding.
In order to truly understand the importance of asking open-ended questions there must be some knowledge of the levels of communication. There are five main levels of communication: acquaintance; facts and information; ideas and opinion; hopes, wishes, and dreams; and heart/emotions. These five levels can be compared to an ocean floor, with the acquaintance and facts and information levels as the shallows and the rest gradually becoming deeper.
Ideas and Opinions
Hopes, wishes, and dreams
Facts and Information
The acquaintance level is what we do every day when we see our co-workers or others we may see and be cordial to on a daily basis, but with whom we do not have a real connection. For example, we may give a warm smile, greet with a “Hello, how are you?” then quickly move on with this statement, “I’m fine, thank you.” and perhaps a “See you later.” Clearly in the acquaintance level there is no real connection.
In the facts and information level, we may say something about the weather, a news report or the score of an athletic event. You are sharing a little bit more, but staying where it’s safe. The ideas and opinions level is where things begin to get a little frightening. Some avoid it all together and some embrace it without regard to the opinions or ideas of those around them. This is the level where we share our belief systems or our thoughts on politics and other more serious issues. It is in these deeper levels that we start to risk more of our inner selves and where relationships have the potential to be severed. This is why it’s important to learn how to share opinions and ideas while respecting the individual person and differences in viewpoints — but that is a topic for another day.
The next two levels are the places we want to get to in our deeper relationships, but find it difficult because our lives can get so busy. It becomes easier to ask a closed-ended question that can be answered with a yes/no or a one or two word response. Some examples of closed-ended questions: “Did you have a good day at school?” “Did the behave today?” “Do you like to play sports?” Closed-ended questions are great for finding out facts, but not for experiencing the heart of your child or spouse.
Open-ended questions expand conversation and help us get into the deep levels of communication where we create a safe place for the other people to explore thoughts and feelings and to express themselves. Open-ended questions invite others to share themselves, and validate that their thoughts and ideas matter. Some of those examples for closed-ended questions can easily be turned into open-ended questions by asking them just a little bit differently: “What did you enjoy about school today?” “How was your day?” “How did the behave?” “What kind of sports do you like?”
It is important to note that though open-ended questions are important in a relationship, the other person still has a choice whether or not she wants to answer the question. You may find yourself in a situation where the other person may not share your desire to communicate more openly or to have the relationship grow deeper. This can be very difficult especially if that person is a spouse or child.
If the point is to build stronger relationships, then we must respect the response — or lack of response — when we ask questions intended to create constructive conversation. A spouse or child may not want to talk right then, but offering the opportunity to speak may build trust and respect within the relationship. Forcing the person to talk or following him around the house until he does talk, will only have negative consequences, risking his withdrawal from the relationship. But with open-ended questions, asked over time, we may begin to have small conversations that could eventually reach the deeper levels of communication — and more importantly, a deeper relationship.
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