Why I Love Open-Ended Questions


in Creativity

As a lawyer, I was taught never to ask a question in court or in a deposition that I didn’t already know the answer to because surprises weren’t good. Cases could be lost. Bad things could happen.

In my life navigating political and bureaucratic institutions, I learned only to ask the questions that I actually wanted the answers to (and already had a sense of what the answer was) in order to advance strategies and agendas. Asking questions about things I didn’t really want the answer to, had the potential to open up a can of worms. Unintended consequences could result. Bad things could happen.

Kind of a frightening way to view questions, don’t you agree?

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with several groups of people. My work was to ask them questions. These weren’t “yes or no” questions. These were “pie-in-the-sky” questions designed to get them to consider the possibilities.

They were open-ended questions with no right or wrong answers.

Apparently, these are the most frightening questions of all.

Although people ultimately rallied and were able to respond, they all struggled to some extent. They wanted boundaries. Particulars. Specifics. A clear frame work within which to respond.

An interesting thing to watch.

Has the value of open-ended questions been stomped out of us? To prevent bad things from happening? To make sure we don’t stray too far from the norm?

Even though I have been taught otherwise, I love open-ended questions. They present an opportunity to play. To dream. To be creative. To be surprised by new thoughts. They allow free-flowing connections and permit outrageous ideas.

Please keep asking open-ended questions. Of yourself. Of others.

Good things could happen.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ronna March 17, 2011 at

Was just thinking about your post today as I taught a class of retiring Coast Guard members about the interview process. We talked much of open-ended and situational/behavioral questions. They got the concept but SO wanted me to tell them that closed-ended (translate: easy) questions would be asked of them. There’s something we fear in this kind of question – as though we’ll answer it wrong or not be accepted and chosen. But if our answer is genuine and true, and who cares?!? I know. I know. Easier said than done – as are all things that matter. Thanks for reminding us, Andrea.
Ronna recently posted..Making Hard Choices Revealing What Is


Andrea March 17, 2011 at

Thanks, Ronna! I know you understand exactly what I’m talking about. You ask the very best open-ended questions … ones designed to get me to think, explore and grow. Total conversation starters!


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