Probing skills: open questions

Open questions – asking open-ended questions helps you understand the clients’ viewpoint and draws out their feelings about a particular topic or situation. Open-ended questions facilitate conversation, as they cannot be answered with a single word (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’) or phrase, and do not require any specific response. They are a means of getting additional information from the client in an objective and unbiased way. Open-ended questions encourage the client to do the majority of the talking; help you avoid making hasty judgments; and keeps communication moving forward.

Open questions typically begin with ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘who’. For example, you might ask a client:

  • “What do you think stops you from …”
  • “Where do you normally …”
  • “When do you …”
  • “How do you feel when …”
  • “Who do you think might be able to …”

You should try to avoid questions that are too open or broad, as these are very difficult to answer. They may throw clients or put unnecessary pressure on them to come up with an answer instead of exploring key issues.