Skill Builder: Asking Open-Ended Questions

Welcome! We at the Conflict Resolution (CR) committee are proud to launch our new series. Our work will feature a variety of content intended to help raise our collective consciousness about all types of conflict prevention in an effort to promote the development of our social ideals. Watch for future posts and please let us know what you think!

As organizers, it’s important that we strive towards understanding by actively working to understand the experiences, ideas, and beliefs of our comrades, allies, and fellow community members. Building a level of understanding can allow us to effectively collaborate with and support one another. One important practice we can use to build understanding is asking open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions are questions that, by design, require the person responding to provide a thorough, in-depth answer. In contrast, close-ended questions typically invite one-word answers such as “yes” or “no” that can often end the conversation.

For example:

  • Close-ended questions: Did you like that proposal? Did the meeting go well?
  • Open-ended questions: What were your thoughts about that proposal? How did you feel about the meeting?

By asking open-ended questions, we’re able to more directly understand others’ experiences, thought processes, motivations, fears, and goals. Using questions that increase our understanding and explore the ideas and opinions of others then allows us to more effectively collaborate and organize, both internally among the chapter and externally with potential allies. Getting into the habit of asking open-ended questions may seem like it’s easy, but it takes a little work to make it a regular practice. The Conflict Resolution committee (CR) challenges you to practice using only open-ended questions in conversations with friends, co-workers and/or comrades this week!

Quick tips!

  • Avoid questions that start with “Did” “Do” “Are” and “Is.”
  • Try and use questions that start with “How” and “What.”
    • Pro tip: Try to avoid using “Why,” as it can often unintentionally assign blame and cause others to become defensive when answering. For instance, asking “Why did you do that?” carries a connotation that the object of your question did something wrong.
    • That said, not every question can be an open-ended question. Sometimes “why” is an appropriate way to ask!

Here are some more examples of open-ended questions to get you started:

  • What was your experience like at… ?
  • How did you feel about… ?
  • How did you respond when… ?
  • What was your thought process around… ?
  • How do you envision addressing… ?
  • What do you think would be a good way to address… ?
  • What are some of your concerns about… ?
  • What issue are you hoping to address by… ?
  • What’s already been tried and how did it go?
  • What were some of the challenges with… ?
  • What do you think went well with… ?

Thanks for taking the time to read, and as always, if you’d like to get support from Conflict Resolution counselors, please visit:

[Please note: This information is largely drawn from resources provided by Community Boards. To learn more about Community Boards check out their website.]