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questions and answers

A successful consultation process, a successful employee appraisal and also everyday conversations with clients often depend on “good” questions and “correct” answers. In any case, your interlocutor will signal to you whether your questions and answers are of quality. In contrast to ready-made answers or statements, questions stimulate your counterpart to think. Questions open up a space for him that can only be filled through personal initiative and activity. Questions are therefore very positive appeals to the wisdom and maturity of our interlocutors. If you take a look at the selection of questioning and answer techniques below, you can quickly see how much you have it in your hand to control with questions or, conversely, to enable a constructive conversation with suitable answers.

It makes a remarkable difference for you whether a conversation partner turns away bored or enters into an exciting dialogue with you that is noticeably interested. On the one hand, you may acquire a reliable employee or your law firm a client who is looking for more than just any consultant. In general, people - and this means employees as well as clients - decide to cooperate when they feel understood. And only those who feel understood are ready for advice.

Questioning techniques

There are many different questioning techniques. All of them are extremely interesting and important at the same time because, once you have mastered them, they make it easier for you to communicate and shape your relationships overall. With good questions you can get a conversation going and keep it going. With specific questions you can work out the knowledge and experience potential of your interlocutor or first find out the wishes and needs of your clients.

Asking good questions requires a positive attitude.

Asking the right questions is by no means trivial. The motto must be: “Whoever asks is stupid, but whoever doesn't ask remains stupid”. In addition to professional competence, curiosity and openness, and an appreciative attitude towards the other person, the ability to listen actively is required. The latter is more than just listening in silence. It includes paraphrasing what has been said in your own words and further spinning it through questions. That in turn requires empathy. Everything else is technology and can be learned.

Anyone who asks questions is responsible for generating answers.

The success of a conversation depends not least on the conscious distinction and perception between opening and closing questions. It is essential for the course of a conversation whether you actually want to learn something new from the other person or whether you only want to get their approval or rejection anyway. One type of question opens communication while the other prevents it.

But be careful: Asking questions is not just a way of obtaining information, rather information is always created at the same time. A small exercise should make this clear to you: Think about the implications that are hidden in the following questions, with which an initial interview could be opened:

  • Why are you here?
  • Since when has the unsatisfactory situation existed?
  • What is your problem?
  • What can i do for you today?
  • What solutions do you want to achieve?
  • What should happen here today so that you can go home more satisfied afterwards?

As you can see, if you take a closer look, the harmless method of asking questions is already the first form of intervention. This is precisely why it is important to be aware of questions.

The open question

Open questions are formulated in such a way that they cannot be answered with either “Yes” or “No”. They appeal to the knowledge and competence of the person asked and invite them to a serious dialogue. The open question shows the interlocutor that the other person is actually interested in his or her personal opinion. It prompts the interlocutor to express his feelings and attitudes. He can seize the opportunity to put his problems, concerns, and wishes to his heart through the questions put to him. However, open questions require particularly good listening.

Open questions always begin with so-called "W" -questions:
Who? When? How? Where to where? Whom / Whom? What? Whose? In what way? Which (with what aim, in what form)? What? How does this happen? By when? How long? How often? How far? ... etc.

Examples of opening questions:

  • What is it about - what is it not?
  • In what situation?
  • How long has the problem existed?
  • What have been previous attempts to solve the problem?
  • How successful have they been?
  • What do you think about …?
  • How was …?
  • How are you with ...?
  • When should the goal be achieved?
  • How would you know that the goal has been achieved?
  • How would others know that?
  • How far are you now
  • Where do you want to go?
  • What do you have to do without?
  • What price do you want to pay for achieving your goals?

The closed question

Closed questions are always questions that can be answered with either “Yes” or “No”. These questions require a clear answer from the person asked. In any case, they are useful when it comes to specific decisions or to concluding a conversation. Sometimes their effort is also necessary in order to bring an arduous conversation to an end with an indecisive interlocutor.

The answer options are clearly limited and in most cases do not provide any new information for either the questioner or the person who answers. A series of closed questions leaves a stale aftertaste for everyone involved. What should an employee answer the boss's question: “Have you understood everything?” Other than the already expected “yes”.

In order to show you how many possibilities questions offer, I have put together a selection of ten important question types, which is not to say that there are not other types of questions. This collection does not claim to be complete.

Ten main types of questions

1. Information question

As the name suggests, this type of question is clearly aimed at obtaining information:

  • How many employees does your company have?
  • How have you handled the issue so far?

Due to the type of formulation or a carefully considered addition, questions of information can be combined with an advantage for the interlocutor:

  • In order to better understand / advise / support you, I need more detailed information about ...
  • In order to be able to advise you individually, I am still missing information on ...

2. Alternative question

If you look closely, this type of question leaves your conversation partner very limited. However, you offer him the choice between two positive (!) Options. It helps your interlocutor clearly in his decision-making.

  • Do you prefer week 35 or week 36?
  • Are you planning to introduce the new structure initially only for your company or also for all subsidiaries?

3. Leading question

The aim of the leading question is to find out opinions and needs. With this type of question, you as the questioner try to influence your conversation partner in your own way. The formulation of these questions directs the response behavior by giving preference to a certain answer option. Leading questions belong to the category of consciously manipulative questions. Their use is therefore rather controversial. Sometimes their use can be justified when it comes to exaggerating a grievance in a humorous way and thereby making it visible for the “company blind”.
Typical for this type of question are words such as “yes”, “probably”, “also”, “definitely”, or “certainly”.

  • Surely that is also the case in your law firm?
  • Are you sure you also value ...?

4. Yes questions street

This questioning technique is actually a little psychological trick. As it were, the questioner gropes his way to a really crucial question with a series of harmless questions. As the interlocutor has already answered yes to a number of questions, he gets used to it inwardly. The inhibition threshold for a further “yes” is significantly reduced with this questioning method. This technique is recommended towards the end of a conversation, especially if numerous arguments for a “yes” have already been prepared in the course of the conversation.

5. Rhetorical question

Such questions basically assume equality of opinion and generally do not expect an answer. They can be used well in the course of a lecture or in the course of a presentation, for example. In contrast to a statement or a statement, the rhetorical question “seduces” the interlocutor to deal internally with the question. It forces him to think along. In this way, you as the questioner will secure increased attention in any case. In its most popular form, it is often introduced with "who":

  • Who wants to deny the advantages of functioning internal communication?
  • Do I have to mention that ...?

6. Counter question

The counter question is a reaction question. This gives you the time you need to be able to answer in a suitable manner, because you either want to return a provocative question or are interested in further background information.

  • How can I understand your question?
  • What do you mean?

7. Motivation question

Motivation questions are carefully formulated. Their purpose is to encourage, affirm, or build up the interlocutor. You make him come out of himself, as it were.

  • You made your first public appearance in front of a large audience very well. How did you do that?
  • Now that you've achieved ... - what's next?

8. Provocative question

Please be careful! Provocative questions are an unequivocal attack on an interlocutor. At times, however, they may well be justified, for example to lure an extremely defensive person from his reserve. However, a provocative question may trigger a process that you had not intended to be.

  • Why is your colleague so much faster than you at ...?
  • Do you even feel like ...?

9. Control question

This type of question is used when the truthfulness of the interlocutor's statements is doubted or it is to be checked whether the interlocutor is still listening. Seen in this way, it is one of the most important questioning techniques for conversations, because the sooner it turns out that your counterpart is no longer following you or may no longer be able to follow you, the sooner you can react to it. Especially when talking to clients, it can quickly happen that you yourself feel very comfortable in “your” specialty, but unfortunately the client has long been a lost cause. Ultimately, an unsatisfactory situation for everyone involved.

  • Don't you agree with my thoughts?
  • Do you still have any questions?

10. Trick question

Such questions are asked for information that is reluctant to divulge or whose direct inquiries make the questioner appear in an unfavorable light. Not exactly popular, but sometimes simply necessary in order not to embarrass anyone or not to embarrass yourself.

  • In which year did you graduate from high school? (With this you can work out the age of the person you are talking to)


What you should keep in mind when you ask

I would like to refer again to the quote already mentioned at the beginning: "Only those who do not ask remain stupid". Ask and keep talking!

However, there are a few simple tips to keep in mind:

  • Take a break after each question! The person you are talking to needs this pause for thought, first of all to listen and then to be able to formulate an answer in the first place.
  • Do not submit any additional explanations to the actual question! You would interrupt the train of thought of your interlocutor. That would not only be impolite, it could also trigger a massive defensive stance on the part of your interlocutor. He may not feel that he is being taken seriously enough. Gunther Schmidt, well-known representative of hypnosystemic counseling and therapy, sincerely calls this period of time "the customer's holy time". With each addition, you irrevocably destroy the effect of your original question.
  • Rate long pauses as a clear indication of the quality of your question! The longer it takes someone to answer, the more decisive the question. For common questions we all have our answer repertoire ready and can react quickly and confidently. If you get answers like: “I don't know” or “I really don't know”, rate them as a clear signal, trusting that more will follow very soon.
  • Exercise patience! Don't worry - here, too, no master fell from the sky - and the same applies as almost everywhere: only practice makes perfect! If this is difficult for you to be patient - for the time being - agree on a number to which you want to count internally. When you have reached it, start all over again.


Response techniques

Every conversation has its own dynamic. Only those who prepare, listen and reflect can influence the conduct of the conversation with answers. The questioner is not omnipotent, even if he is in the lead in the questioning process, because only for the time being applies: Who asks, does not have to give an answer. Mastering answer techniques means being able to deal with questions appropriately. When someone asks questions, they usually want answers as well.

Here I give you a few examples of the beginnings of sentences that are linked to what has been said and thus keep a conversation going.

1. Offer another point of view and use it to direct attention in a direction that is ideally positive.

  • A completely different idea would be ...
  • It comes to my mind ...
  • It would be conceivable ...
  • Maybe

2. Yes – and method: agree with your interlocutor but add an additional aspect.

  • Yes and
  • Something third might be ...
  • Your idea comes to mind ...
  • I don't know if this fits ...

3. Draw up hypotheses or ask about the future as to how you might appear desirable for the person you are talking to.

  • It could be ...
  • I had such a picture in mind ...
  • What would happen if ...
  • What happened if …

4. Show differences and use them to show new options.

  • On the one hand ..., on the other hand ...
  • On the other hand, you could say ...

5. Respectfully question what is said. Do not evaluate the competencies of your interlocutor.

  • Of course I don't know, but I could imagine ...
  • I'm not sure, but maybe ...

6. When you make a suggestion to the person you are speaking to, speak in the first person. Represent yourself in your statements. Avoid generalizations by speaking of "we" or "man".

  • I could think / imagine ...
  • That got into my head
  • Such a picture comes to me ...

7. If you doubt a statement, make it clear that this is your personal perception of things.

According to Heinz von Foerster, it is always valid: It is not the things that worry us, but the idea that we have of them. It is normal for people to have different ideas, but you can enable other people to change their minds about things.

  • What you say seems like it to me ...
  • I wonder if …
  • Somehow the question arises to me ...
  • I had the feeling ...

Listen actively

In order to answer or ask further questions in one of these suggested ways, one essential requirement is that you must actively listen! Specifically, that means:

  • Empathy: Take the other person seriously. He must also feel that he is being taken seriously, because only then can you actually put yourself in his situation,
  • Attention and interest: Your answers must relate to the reality of the other person. They have to be directly related to his interests, problems, wishes and expectations. Possible advice must appear to be real and actually feasible for him. If he cannot integrate them into his own world, they are useless to him
  • Respect: The needs of your conversation partner are the standard, but the goal always remains to convey your own.

I hope that with this summary of the most important question and answer techniques I have been able to encourage you to think more about communication and, above all, to experiment with and practice the different techniques. I wish you every success in this.

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Getting orders by asking the right questions