People - Top Tips - Questionning


This document is designed as a quick reference guide to questioning

This will enable you to gain knowledge of a particular skill, task or process in the workplace. This means you can quickly find the key information that you need and refer to it on an ongoing basis whenever you need to refresh your knowledge.



Many situations involve you seeking information, whether this is from a team member, a customer, or another part of the business. These situations may include a coaching, recruitment or negotiating element, where asking the right questions is essential to making progress. This document will help you think a little more deeply about how to effectively question someone.


People - Top Tips - Questionning

What you need to know

Types of question

The commonest types of questions are:


Open questions – ‘Why do you find it difficult to get here on time?’ These are designed to get the other person to open up and talk, and get you the maximum information. They usually start with How, Why, What, When,

Where, Who, or ‘Tell me about…’


Probing questions – ‘What exactly is the problem with your journey to work?’ These are used to get more detail or specific facts about a topic, particularly if the person is becoming evasive or tries to change the subject.


Closed questions – ‘Will you use the bus from now?’ These usually start with a verb and are intended to gain a direct answer such as Yes or No, and sometimes to gain agreement or commitment to an action.


Other questions that may occasionally be useful include

Comparison questions – ‘Which job did you prefer?


Summarising questions – ‘So you had three years with that employer in all?


Reflecting questions ‘So you really enjoyed that project?’

N.B. Summarising questions are intended to bring together facts, whereas reflecting questions are more about probing feelings.



Rhetorical questions – This is any question that you don’t want answering aloud, but are usually asking to allow someone else to think internally about the question you pose. It’s almost never obvious that you are asking a rhetorical question, so you will need to preface your question with something like “I don’t want you to answer this…” or “just think about this for a minute…” then ask your question. Rhetorical questions can be a powerful way to really get people to ‘look inside themselves’ perhaps to challenge their own behaviour or performance.


Hypothetical questions – ‘What would you do if ………?


Challenging or Exploring questions – ‘Have you looked at it like this…?

These are designed to get the person to think differently, such as when coaching.


Mirroring questions -these are not actual questions, but consist of repeating the last word or few words the other person has said, to indicate you’d like to hear more about the topic; ‘You lost interest in the role?’ Use them sparingly or you risk sounding like a parrot!


Not all questions are great though – here are some questions that it’s usually best to avoid:

Leading questions – ‘Obviously you wouldn’t consider doing it that way?’

Here the answer is implied within the question; you will get the answer you imply and this may be a different response than you would have received if the question was worded on a non-leading way.


Multiple questions – ‘Where did you work next and how many staff of what grades did you manage?’ At best you will only get one part of multiple questions answered!


Certain types of question will be of more use in some situations than others.

For example, coaching conversations require challenging questions that would be inappropriate in a conversation with a customer about a complaint, whereas a counselling conversation will need reflecting questions that would be less useful in a disciplinary situation.


People - Top Tips - Questionning

What you need to know

The questioning process – ‘funnelling’ your questions

It will help if you plan the questions you want to ask before starting a conversation, particularly if there is specific information you want, or a particular outcome you have in mind. This could be to help you decide on the best candidate for a job, to deal with a problem involving a team member, or to gain commitment from a supplier who has let you down.


It will help to think of the questioning process as a funnel to work through

Start with wide open questions to gain the maximum information. Narrow this down by asking probing questions on specific issues that concern you or where you want to know more. End with closed questions to get agreement or commitment. You will probably need to do this several times to explore all the aspects of a particular topic. Add in other types of question as necessary.




Depth of questioning

Some discussions takes place on a surface level, in others you may need to probe quite deeply. Think of this as questioning on three levels:


Level 1 – facts – ‘What were your duties in that job?

Level 2 – feelings – ‘Which of those did you enjoy most?

Level 3 – values – ‘Why was that important to you?


When dealing with many issues, for example a customer complaint, facts questions will usually be sufficient. However when you are in a coaching situation, you are likely to need to use feeling questions, and in a counselling conversation it may be appropriate to use values questions.


The key is to keep your questioning appropriate for the person, the situation, and the information or result you want. If you question on feelings or particularly values, do so sensitively, and be prepared to cope with the emotions that may be revealed.



Finally, plan to allow time for silence, to give the other person a chance to think and answer – this is as important as the questions you ask.