A good conversationalist is good both at listening and asking the right questions. Open ended questions are those that spark a conversation and keep it interesting. This is how talk show hosts, counselors, and preschool teachers get people to open up to them.
Such a line of questioning is beneficial for getting shy people to talk as well as when conversing with children and other people you want to get to know. In sales, open ended questions help sales professionals know exactly what kind of product or service their customer needs, and in turn are able to provide great value. In dating and relationships, open ended questions bring something new to the relationship, keep things exciting, and at times may even help save the relationship.
How to ask open ended questions
Consider how a talk show host gets his or her guests to talk into detail about themselves. They allow their guests to talk freely about their experiences. The conversation may start with close ended questions that can be answered from the top of your head, and then gets deeper as you become more acquainted with the person. This results in better communication and a closer bond. Before we reveal what questions to ask, let us look into what we should know about open ended questions:
- Answers are not limited to a single correct response.
- The respondents can answer creatively.
- One can get an unexpected response.
- The questions can elicit sentences and stories that give you insight into their opinions, ideas, or feelings.
- Respondents are given room to put more thought into their explanations.
- They help you better understand the other’s needs.
- They help break down complex situations.
- Misunderstanding, conflict, and arguments may be better resolved through open ended questions.
- They help in making better decisions.
- The respondents feel heard.
If you’re struggling to ask open ended questions, you are not alone. We often ask simple, close ended questions when making pleasantries. Through deep conversations, we can quickly turn from strangers to acquaintances to good friends. If you want to build and strengthen your connections, here are some tips on what kind of questions to ask:
- Don’t ask leading questions like “isn’t it?” and “don’t you think?” which compels the other person to agree with you.
- Avoid asking “why” which may put the respondent on defensive or feel the need to justify.
- Ask how which helps you learn more from them. (e.g. “How did you do that hairstyle?”)
- Questions with more depth and complexity lead to great open-ended questions. (Getting into details, big ideas, how things change over time, different points of view, etc.)
- Ask questions in decreasing intrusiveness when searching for information. It can feel socially awkward at first but can help a person open up when the follow-up questions are less private.
- Start with casual questions to more sensitive questions for building relationships.
- Never jump right into the deep questions.
- Create a list of open ended questions before the actual conversation.
- Practice transforming close ended questions into open ended ones:
- “Do you like pizza?” to “What toppings do you like/dislike on pizza?”
- “Did you prepare for the test?” to “How did you prepare for the test?”
- “How was school today?” to “Who was kind to you today?” or “What did the teacher talk about most today?”
Sometimes the way you ask the question holds more weight than the question itself. So here are some tips on how to ask open ended questions in a way that doesn’t sound like an interview or an investigation:
- Be curious about the other person.
- Follow up close-ended questions with an open-ended question, and another, and another.
- Keep the questions relevant.
- Don’t go through a list robotically.
- Lean in and listen carefully to their response.
- Avoid interrupting or prompting the kind of response you want.
- Give genuine responses and don’t fake enthusiasm.
- Take time to think about the right questions.
- Give the respondent time to think about their answers and don’t try to force a response.
- Keep it casual and give leeway for the respondent to change his or her response.
- Practice the art of strategic silence or intentionally remaining silent when the respondent stops mid-conversation. This may encourage the speaker to reveal something or make a decision.
- Focus your attention on the speaker. Your body language can convey this. Although, eye contact can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable so feel free to ask these questions while doing an activity.
- Ask questions in decreasing intrusiveness when searching for information. It can feel socially awkward at first but can help a person open up when the follow-up questions are less private.
- Start with casual questions to more sensitive questions for building relationships.
- Be cautious of keeping the balance between privacy and transparency.
- Have confidence in your tone even if you feel shy or awkward at first.
Open ended questions for preschoolers
When children at an early age are taught to think through open-ended questions, they can better communicate their feelings, recall experiences, and understand the world around them. Open-ended questions also help broaden a young child’s vocabulary and their ability to use words to express themselves. Be sure to give your full attention as children know when you’re not listening. With that in mind, here are some questions that can get preschoolers to talk:
- Can you tell us the best thing about being a part of your family?
- What is the best part about being the (youngest/eldest/middle child) in the family?
- What is your favorite family activity?
- What do you wish you could do all day?
- What would be fun to put in your house or to decorate your room with?
- What superpower or magic power do you wish you can have?
- What do you remember about being a baby?
- What does this object or picture remind you of?
- Can you show me how this works?
- Can you show me how you did this?
- Can you name things you like that is in this color?
- Which cartoon character would make a good pet?
- What do you think would your favorite cartoon character look like if it didn’t wear the same thing every day?
- What would little children do for fun if there were no tablets, video games, and TVs?
- What do you imagine your toys do when you are asleep?
- What would happen if you left your toys on the stairs or your playdough out on the table all day? (This helps during clean up time.)
- What would make a cool name for your baby brother/sister?
- What would you do to be a good older brother/sister to your siblings? (This is good to ask when you’re pregnant too)
- What did your favorite character do in this episode/movie?
- Which character on the show/movie is a lot like you?
- Was there anyone mean in the show/movie? Why do you think they acted that way?
- How did you feel this character felt when the other character was being mean to him/her?
- What would you do if it happened to you?
- What do you dream about that scares you?
- What do you do to feel brave when you’re scared?
- What do you imagine the clouds/trees are like?
As a parent, we often ask our children questions like “How was your day?” or “Did you have fun at daycare?” If you notice, children are not likely to answer this question at length if they can sense the adult is not interested. If you want answers beyond “it was fine” and “yes I had fun,” then it’s best to rephrase your questions like these:
- What book did you read today at story time?
- What song did you sing at daycare today?
- Who did you spend more time with today?
- What did you enjoy doing most today?
- Who did you make friends with today?
- Who did you help today?
- Who did you want to help today?
- What rules did the teacher say today?
- What did your teacher say she liked doing?
- What is your favorite thing to do at recess?
- What is something new that you discovered today?
- What did you do different at daycare today?
- Who/What made you happy/sad/laugh/embarrassed/afraid/hurt today?
- How did you show your love today?
- What funny/silly thing did you see/hear/do today?
Open ended survey questions
Digital questionnaires make it easy for respondents to answer a survey. Close ended questions make up most of the survey as a set of options make the task less time-consuming. But, to boost the efficiency of surveys, an efficient survey designer would consider adding open ended questions.
While you get what you expect with close ended questions, responses from open ended questions can reveal concerns, hopes, fears, problem-solving strategies, feelings, and ideations you may not have given thought to before designing the survey. Open ended questions are integral to qualitative market research as it goes into details and gives the respondents full control over their answers. Still, open ended questions should be used sparingly as it is time-consuming to answer.
One way to add open ended questions to a survey is to add an “Other” option with an open text format. Most of these questions are applicable to any survey outline. These questions are beneficial when drafting a survey for a product, service, E-commerce website, or SaaS service. It is also applicable for acquiring insightful feedback on hotel service, an event, customer service performance, web design, blog, or education. Do tweak the questions and personalize them for your target respondents.
Let us start with surveys for new customers or new website visitors. The questions are catered to customers and visitors in the starting phases of the decision-making process. From customers who are having a hard time figuring out your website to those who have recently subscribed, here are some good questions to ask them:
- What is your main goal for (joining event/using this product/service)?
- What can you tell us about yourself?
- What persuaded you to (start a free trial/account, use a product, subscribe, visit the page more often)?
- What almost stopped you?
- Were you able to complete your purpose (for visiting a website, joining the event) today?
- If not, what stopped you?
- What information would make it easier for you to (buy/enroll) ?
- What was your biggest challenge in finding the right type of (product/service/event) on this site?
- What is one thing missing in (product/website/event)?
- Is there anything on this (website/program/event) that did not work the way you expected it to?
- What stopped you from (upgrading/buying)?
- What is stopping you from (enrolling/proceeding to checkout)?
- What are your fears or concerns about (buying on this site)?
- What other comments, suggestions, or other concerns would like to share with us?
Some of the questions listed above are also good to ask your existing customers. Over time, you may need to make changes to your product, service, or website. Asking your existing clientele or subscribers will help in client retention too. Here are some additional questions to ask your existing customers:
- In your own words, what did you like most about this?
- What changes to this would you like to see in the future?
- What features or functionalities can we add that would make this indispensable for you?
- What other types of (content) should we (write/offer) next?
- If (product/service/blog) was discontinued, what would you miss the most?
Finally, when preparing an exit survey for employees, students, or a customer that stopped using your product or website, you can include open ended survey questions such as these:
- What does (management/teacher) need to do to improve (their) performance?
- What actions can (your employer/teacher) take to make this (workplace/class) better?
- Is there anything about the process you would like to improve?
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about (using the service/the event)?
- What would you like to tell us about your experience with this (event/service/school/company)?
- What were your expectations about (work/website/blog)?
- What are your reasons for (leaving this company/canceling account/unsubscribing)? (Blunt and direct answers are encouraged)
Open ended questions to ask a girl
When you try to start a conversation with a girl, the sorts of questions you ask are vital to how the conversation will go. You may start by asking close ended questions followed up with good open ended questions. You can often tell whether or not a girl is interested in the topic because she will talk more if she likes the topic and gives short responses even if it’s an open ended question.
Also, keep in mind to progress your questions from light-hearted to deep questions. If you have chemistry, you can naturally keep the conversation going from there. So here are a few ideas on what to ask a girl:
- What is your favorite thing to do more than anything else in this world?
- What is something your friends think is fun but you don’t enjoy doing?
- What group activity do you enjoy the most?
- What story do you like to tell at parties?
- What is it like living a day in your life?
- Would you rather be a damsel in distress or the hero who will save the day?
- When you finally get the free time, what will I catch you doing?
- What is a song you like from a band or genre you don’t generally like?
- If you could have your ideal day, what would it look like?
- What do you like best about growing up in your hometown?
- Can you tell me three things about your hometown so I can guess where you grew up?
- What do you think I’m like?
After a couple of dates and the getting to know each other phase, it is time to find out more interesting things about her. So here are a couple deep open ended questions to ask a girl:
- What is something you are proud of but don’t openly share with others?
- Can you tell me something personal about you that only a few people know?
- What happened on the happiest day of your life?
- What did you do at the farthest place you’ve traveled?
- What would you do on your next vacation destination?
- What is something unexpected about you?
- What are you most passionate about these days?
- What do you think is your mission in life?
- What personal goals are you working on right now?
- How can I help you achieve one of your goals (be it in your career, personal life, travel goals, etc.)?
- How are you working towards the career you really want to have?
- What would you cut down on to save money?
- If you had on a warning label, what would be written on it?
- What is something you had not realized about yourself until somebody pointed it out?
- What is something that had a significant impact on the way you live your life now?
- What is something you have done for yourself recently?
- What have your family and friends been up to recently?
- What would you be doing now if you had the chance to do what you really wanted to do in life?
Open ended questions for dating
Dating certainly has its way of making everyone feel nervous. While we hope we’re not dating a psycho, we also hope there will be chemistry that will keep the conversation flowing. It doesn’t hurt to have a few cheat codes though. Check out some questions you can ask your date whether you’ll be watching a movie, having lunch, dinner, or coffee:
- What do you like about this place?
- What food or drink in this place best represents you?
- How about me, what food or drink they have here would you say represents me?
- What in this menu are you afraid to try?
- If you could eat anything on this menu without worrying about calories, allergies, and any other physical effects, what would you be eating?
- What food on this menu do you have the ability to recreate at home?
- What is the funniest name you’ve ever heard in this coffee shop? Did the person look like his or her name?
- What made you order this type of coffee?
- What is the strangest thing to pair with coffee?
- What would you guess are the names of the waiters/bartenders/baristas here?
- What would be the best story plot for this movie title?
- What unusual food do you like to pair with popcorn?
- If you were asked to entertain everyone in this place, how would you entertain us all?
From there, you can move on to more conversational topics with these open ended questions:
- What is stopping you from trying something you’ve always been curious to try?
- What do you do with your friends for fun?
- How do you spend quality time with your family?
- What made you go into the kind of work you have now?
- What funny online dating story do you want to tell?
- What would you say you have OCD about?
- What name do you really want to go by?
- What is the story behind your nicknames?
- What happened when you had to give up your favorite food for a long time?
- What was the best thing anyone has ever complimented you on?
- What would those who know you say your three best qualities are?
Once you feel that you and your date have established some sort of connection, feel free to ask more personal questions like these:
- How limited is your time for fun and recreation?
- What is the one hobby you wish you had more time to do?
- Are you doing what you wanted to be doing 5 years ago?
- If you could be as carefree as you can be, how would your life look like?
- What is something about you that would make your mom freak out if she knew about it?
- How far back can you remember in your life and what does this scene look like?
- What makes your family unique?
- What would you be doing differently if you had no fear of the risks?
- How do you overcome your insecurities?
- How has your most life-changing read impacted your life?
- What movie scene always makes you cry no matter how many times you watch it?
Funny open ended questions
Here are funny open ended questions that don’t really have a proper answer and some are even too silly to answer. If you like telling jokes and want to see if your date, family, or friends get the pun, then ask these questions:
- If a person gets addicted to counseling, how could they be treated?
- How come psychics don’t win the lottery?
- What will happen the second time someone gets scared half to death?
- Where do you think does the light go when it goes out?
- When people say we have chemistry, why don’t they say what time the class is?
- So if I have a runny nose, will I win the marathon?
- So if I charged the Energizer Bunny with battery, will he be put in jail?
- Does the mime have a right to remain silent?
- Can we reprimand abbreviated for being unabbreviated?
- If I buy an object with my name on it, why is it not free?
- Why do people say they are killing the time when the clock is still running?
- Should I pay with cash, card, or a reality check?
- Should I dress up like a clown so cannibals won’t eat me? (Because then I’d taste funny)
- Why don’t they call after dark, after light?
- How old does a “wise guy” have to be before he can be called a “wise man”?
- So if you oversee this project, why didn’t you overlook it?
- Do we choose the shoes or do the shoes choose us?
- How come Tarzan didn’t grow a beard?
- Why do they make non-stick lipstick?
- Who catches the night when it falls?
- When you crack up, can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put you together again?
Another good way to make people laugh is to remind them of their most laughable moments. You can also cook up scenarios and be amazed at how your family and friends will react.
- What is the funniest thing you do?
- What is the funniest thing you saw a cat do?
- If your pet would tell me three funny things about you, what would those be?
- If animals could talk, what would the funniest animal say?
- What animal would make a great cartoon character, and what would the show be about?
- You now have the power to shape shift, what 3 animals would you like to shapeshift into?
- What three wishes would you make from a funny genie? (Be careful, the genie might play a joke on you)
- What is the funniest thing you witnessed a stranger do?
- What joke can’t you tell because you always crack up while telling it?
- What were you thinking when you wore your funniest OOTD?
- What embarrassing thing happened to you that still makes you laugh thinking about it?
- What is your go-to voice for making people laugh?
- How does the funniest laugh sound like?
- Where is the best place to roll on the floor laughing?
- If somebody taped paper on our backs, what would be written on it?
- What hairstyle can you imagine on me that would make me look funny?
Open ended questions to get to know someone
There are people you meet who are easy to talk to. Then there are those people you feel you have nothing in common with. Such a feeling makes it uneasy to start a conversation. If you genuinely want to get to know someone even if you don’t feel like you could hit it off, then ask them open-ended questions they can’t just shrug off. Here are some questions to learn about preferences for a start:
- How do you plan for your weekend?
- How do you choose what type of music you listen to?
- How do you choose what books to read?
- What movies did you need to watch at the theater not just at home?
- How interesting is your bucket list?
- What is the story behind one of your hobbies?
- Where would you take the people who will be visiting your hometown for the first time?
- In what ways are you like an extrovert or an introvert?
If you really want to get to know someone, you will want to know how their day to day goes. Ask about their work, family, and even their passions.
- What do you find stimulating about your work?
- What would you advise someone who is getting into the same job/industry?
- What advice would you give to someone who is about to make a big decision?
- What are your work ethics like?
- What type of role best fits your personality?
- What about your job gives you satisfaction?
- How would you explain what you do to a little child?
- What jobs did you have to take up before you eventually landed this job?
- What job did you learn the most life lessons from?
- What side hustles are you considering?
- What career advice did you need to know when you were starting out?
- How do you separate your work from personal life?
- What do you hope you can do more often as a family?
- What do you do with the people you enjoy spending time with the most?
- How much has your family life changed in the last 10 years?
- What would you say is the best thing about having a family of your own?
- What is your philosophy about raising kids?
- What were your ideas about marriage and how has that changed?
- What family tradition would you like to create?
- How does your family deal with troubles?
- How far do you want to venture out into the world?
- If money were not a problem, what business would you be most passionate to start?
- If you won an unlimited service of any kind for an entire year, what service would most benefit your day to day living?
- If you could stop worrying about one thing, what would that be?
- What do you want to wake up to in the morning?
- What would have to happen throughout your day to make you sleep peacefully at night?
- What personality trait do you still carry from your childhood?
- How would your life change if your relationship with one person would change?
Open ended questions for retail
The most effective salesman seeks to understand the real needs of the consumer so he can deliver solutions that will be of significance to the consumer. It can be a product on hand or an alternative. Selling the wrong product to the wrong customer can end in frustrations and very bad reviews. Keep in mind that consumers are more likely to share their negative experiences about a company than positive ones.
Whether you aim to qualify leads, build rapport, establish credibility, or gain a better relationship with your customers, good open ended sales questions can help you achieve just that. The questions we listed here are designed for various stages of the buying process. Let us start with open ended questions for information gathering and qualifying leads:
- What persuaded you to look into this (product/service)?
- What are your requirements or expectations about this?
- What would you like to accomplish?
- What is your timeline for (purchasing)?
- What budget is established for this?
- What factors could no longer make this a priority?
- What past experiences do you have (good, bad, or neutral) about this type of product/service?
- Who else is involved in the decision-making process?
If you have time for a longer conversation, such as when your product or service is a costly purchase, you will need time to build rapport, trust, and credibility. With longer discussions, you can ask:
- What kind of challenges are (you/your company) facing?
- What about this is a top priority for you?
- What improvements do you expect and how would you measure changes?
- What has changed in your business since our last conversation?
- What’s your story?
- What goals do you hope to accomplish with this product/service?
- How will you measure changes brought about by this product/service?
Open ended questions like the ones below can also help determine objections or afflictions so you can mitigate them:
- What are your thoughts about this so far?
- What are your top concerns or issues about this so far?
- What issues do you have with this product/service that changed the way it works for you?
- Most clients report (these) problems, have you faced similar problems?
- What is holding you back from achieving your goals with this product/service?
- How do you think this product/service will impact your business as well as you personally?
- How would implementation of (this) affect your competitiveness in today’s market?
- How would it affect you and your business moving forward if this problem will not be solved?
- What are the possible reasons to delay purchase/implementation?
You may also need to ask clarifying questions such as:
- Can you help me understand (how that works) a little better?
- What does that mean?
- Can you tell me more about…?
- Can you give me an example of…?
- Can you be more specific about…?
- Could you get deeper into this detail/event?
- Can you specify what you mean by…?
Finally, seal the deal with these closing questions:
- When do you want to (meet/me to call) again?
- What do you want us to be aware of when doing business with you?
- Which (vendor) are you comparing us against?
- What other products/solutions would you need our product/service to integrate with?
Open ended questions in counseling
Humans need more than just the basic necessities of life such as food, water, air, and shelter. We also need purpose, community, contribution, mind-body connection, attention, challenge, control, intimacy, and security. Emotional disorders like depression and addiction come as a result of not having these needs adequately met. Counselors help assess how these needs are being met, address deficits as well as symptoms. A very important part of the process is having sit-down sessions with your counselor.
Open ended questions can help clients in their journey of self-exploration. In counseling sessions, the client should feel in control of the situation. Over-questioning or asking the wrong questions can result in mistrust and frustrations. During the session, the counselor should also observe the facial expression, eye contact, and body language of the client to gauge whether or not the questions are making their clients feel uncomfortable or awkward. With that in mind, here are some types of questions that are good to ask in counseling:
- Can you tell me what (not why) brings you here today?
- How often do you get to meet up with your family or friends?
- Who do you feel is close to you or really understands you?
- How are you sleeping these past few days?
- How do you feel about your current diet?
- How do you feel about the amount of exercise you are getting?
- What challenges are you experiencing at work lately?
- What areas of your life do you feel the most pressure lately?
- What choices do you have about what you experience in your life?
- Do you have a clear vision of what direction you want your life to go?
- How do you feel about your day to day living?
- What involvement do you have with the people around you lately?
- In the past few weeks, how often have you felt hopeless or down?
- Have you had thoughts of suicide recently?
- How often do you go out and try new things?
- How is your energy these days?
- From your viewpoint, what would you say is the problem?
- How do you typically feel about this type of problem?
- What happens that makes the problem better?
- How would you describe your overall mood?
- What do you feel would take to make you feel happier and generally more satisfied?
Some counseling sessions may be highly-sensitive such as when you’re dealing with issues of privacy and sexual intimacy. Open ended questions help bring the focus on your client in a non-intrusive way such as these questions:
- What are you doing to protect yourself during sex?
- How would you prefer to protect yourself during sex?
- How does your partner often react when you use protection?
- What stops you from using protection?
- How many sexual partners have you had in the past three months?
- Do you have sex with only women, men, or both?
- Can you tell me what you have heard about HIV and how it is transmitted?
- What are your thoughts/concerns about getting tested for HIV?
Other counselors may also need to counsel couples whose marriage is on the rocks. Open ended questions like these will immensely help your clients:
- How do you typically resolve financial problems?
- What are the differences in your parenting styles?
- How do you feel about the way you communicate with your spouse?
- Can you and your spouse confide in each other?
- What issues do you have with trusting your spouse?
- What about your spouse’s past is making you feel uneasy about him/her?
- What does your spouse do repeatedly that hurts or offends you?
- How do you make decisions for the family?
- What responsibility is each of you in charge with?
- What unspoken rules do you have in your marriage?
When you ask open ended questions, sometimes you discover more than what you intend to. The questions here may divulge secrets, weaknesses, and things that make a person gullible. It takes a certain level of trust to reveal the answers to some of these open ended questions. Be sure that you don’t relay confidential information to others so you can maintain the trust given to you.
Some questions may also bring back past experiences that the person opted to forget. Wisdom can help you determine when to change the direction of the conversation. The beauty of open ended questions is that it puts the respondent in control. If they don’t like your questions, they simply won’t answer or will respond with a short response. When this happens, you can be sensitive enough to move towards light-hearted topics.
Keep in mind that your relationship with the respondent will determine what type of open ended questions you’re allowed to ask and what are not. If you are not very close with a person, you shouldn’t ask deep and personal questions at all. Also, these questions are not meant to be asked in a single conversation. As you continue to meet with the person and have more conversations and time together, you can ask deeper questions. Until then, keep it light, fun, and casual.