Questioning techniques

Effective questioning is one of the core skills that follows on naturally from the skill of active, accurate listening and observation. Again, these skills may sound stilted and unnatural initially. Take time to practice when the emotional climate is calm. With practice, it will become more natural and easier to ask appropriate questions at the right time and in the right way.

Different types of questions accomplish different results and help the recipients to answer in different ways. The more accomplished one becomes in working with the motivational interviewing model, the easier it becomes to know which type of question to use to address whichever situation.

Closed questions

In normal communication, closed questions are an efficient way of gathering specific information. The answer we anticipate when asking a closed question is usually brief. Here are a few examples:

Can you please eat a little more?
Are you feeling more anxious this evening?
Do you feel your therapy is working for you?
Do you have a problem solving strategy?
Closed questions limit the answers. They generally elicit simple one word answers or a yes/no response. They bring an end to the line of questioning, prompting the necessity for more questioning. Closed questions literally close down the interaction.

Open questions

Open questions often elicit more in-depth discussions. They are used to kick-start creativity allowing the carer to explore the situation further. Open questions are always non-judgmental and non-threatening, thus allowing the individual to run through their ideas in confidence. As a general rule, open questions tend to begin with words like “who, what, how, when and where”. ‘Why’ questions almost invariably turn into closed questions. Openings such as “tell me” and “describe to me” are also effective.

I’ve noticed that your portions are smaller than those recommended on your meal plan, yet you’ve asked me to help you with your university application. I’m a bit confused as to how you will reconcile these two areas. What are your feelings about this?
This reflection + open question is aimed at promoting a greater sense of self-reflection.
I get the feeling that your anxiety levels are high tonight. What ways can I support you in bringing them back down to a more manageable level?
This question is more likely to open up and expand on how they see the way they deal with their eating disorder.
I’m interested in how you feel after your therapy. How would you feel about sharing your thoughts on any effects?
This question invites the sufferer to talk about any feeling he/she may wish to share.
Tell me a bit about any obstacles you think may challenge you?
Again this question is more likely the recipient to use his/her own creative skills in coming up with an answer or an action plan as to how to deal with any challenges that may lie ahead.
What options do you think you have?
This introduces the idea of choice and empowerment and reduces the feeling of being ‘trapped’.