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Participant Handout 6


Open and Probing Question Techniques


Asking questions effectively

Creating rapport and a positive atmosphere is critical. Establishing respect and trust
with the group and especially between the group members is essential to open
communication. Asking the right question at the right time and in the right way helps
facilitate depth of communication. We want to achieve depth and quality of
communication in this exercise . . . the kind of conversation that people have once
“the agency 4x4 vehicle has left the community”.

For communities who are recipients of humanitarian and development aid, achieving
depth of communication can be challenging. Previous experience, raised
expectations and frustrations may be felt. Frequently, the interaction of organisations
is to obtain data and information to raise funds and write reports. It is organisation
centred. Many communities are fatigued and frustrated by this. Appropriate
engagement requires active listening and respect for community feelings.

Asking appropriate questions and at appropriate times as set out in the
Communication Pyramid is important. Applying good questioning techniques takes
effort and practice. This quality of communication is very different from data
collection.

Here are some common questioning techniques – when and how to use them:

Closed Questions

A closed question usually receives a single word or short answer. For example, “Are
you thirsty?” The answer is “Yes” or “No”; “Where do you live?” The answer is
generally the name of a town or village. We will not reach the upper levels of the
communication pyramid using closed questions. We have to use open questions.

Open Questions

Open questions elicit longer thoughtful answers. They usually begin with: What,
Why or How? An open question asks the other person to share their experience,
knowledge, opinions or feelings. We want to arrive at the communication level where
people are removing barriers and communicating at a peak level. This is how we
identify and know key impact changes and their causes. It also provides the
foundation on which to gain a depth of understanding and insight on specific issues.

Open questions are good for:

 Showing respect – appreciating others experience
 Developing confidence, trust and openness
 Growing in awareness of ourselves and others
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 Learning – gaining knowledge and information

Probing Questions

“Tell me”, “describe to me”, “give me an example” are probing questions that can
follow an open question. Asking probing questions takes us deeper, facilitates
understanding and allows the community’s conversation to grow as they explore
their lives and issues.

Probing questions are good for:

 Gaining clarification to ensure you have understood what the group has said and
demonstrating that you value the community’s experience and insight.
 Allowing the conversation to grow as they explore their lives and issues, moving
from fact and data to feeling and emotion.