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The Importance of Questions in Communication Skills

Passionately interested in life-long learning, writing, researching, and many other things. Spent many years as a management trainer.

Questions are one of the great communication skills.

Questions are one of the great communication skills.


  • Do you need to get someone talking?
  • Are you interviewing someone for a job?
  • Do you want to be thought of as a great conversationalist?
  • Are you going to an interview and need to know what sort of questions you might be asked?
  • Do you need to know how to get ready for interview questions?
  • Do you need to be seen as a friendly, approachable person socially?
  • Are you trying to sell something?

If you have answered "yes" to any of the above, then you need to ask and answer questions, but not just any old questions. Some questions will close just about any conversation down so quickly that you won't know what hit you. Others will keep the person talking for hours if necessary, and some will only get the person to tell you what you want to hear—not necessarily the truth. And if you are the one being asked the questions, you need to know how to overcome the interviewer's totally woeful questions and show yourself as brilliant!

Closed-ended questions are not always useful in communication

Closed-ended questions are not always useful in communication

Closed-Ended Questions

All the questions that started this article were "closed-ended" questions. They can be answered by the person saying just "yes" or "no" or perhaps "maybe" if they are truly undecided. Try them. Does the answer make sense if the person says just "yes" or "no"?

If you are an interviewer trying to get someone to talk about themselves and their approach to a job, or you are a host trying to get a shy guest to join in a conversation, then you need to know the best kinds of questions to use to achieve your aims and closed-ended questions may not be the ones to use (though they can be at times).

Factual questions only need short answers; they don't get someone conversing

Factual questions only need short answers; they don't get someone conversing

Factual Questions

These are similar to closed questions in that, while they cannot be answered with "yes" or "no", they can be answered with just a short phrase and don't lead to a longer explanation or conversation. Examples of these factual questions might be, "What's the weather like?" "What time is it?" "What colour is the paint?".

Examples of open questions

Examples of open questions

Open-Ended Questions

A "closed-ended" question is one that can be answered by "yes" or "no" or possibly "maybe". So what questions get the person talking? The opposite of "closed" is "open", and "open-ended" questions are ones that cannot be answered by "yes", "no" or "maybe". Open-ended questions will normally get a longer answer and often start with Rudyard Kipling's "six honest serving men"—Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

So, if you want to get someone talking at an interview, you could start by asking them, "Why are you interested in this job?" This question cannot be answered by a yes or a no. The interviewee has to try to give you some kind of an answer. Now, this particular question is a tough one for lower-paid jobs, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you are interviewing for higher-paid jobs, where the interviewee should be expecting this type of question. But the use of the six serving men type questions will serve you well if you are interviewing.

This includes newspaper articles too. If you want to write a newspaper or magazine article on something, your article will have to answer these six questions in order to be published—What is it about? Why are you writing about this? Who is involved? When did it happen? How did it happen?

Developing Open Questions as part of good communication skills

Developing Open Questions as part of good communication skills

More Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions can also start with some other phrases, such as, "Tell me about . . . ", "Give me an example of . . . ". So if you are the host at a party or an organiser at a gathering and are trying to get a guest into a conversation, you could open with a really safe opener such as "What was your journey here like?" or if you know them, you could start straight in with something like, "How is the family doing?". If you continue with open questions (providing it doesn't turn into an interrogation) you can get most people into a conversation that flows.

Definitions of a bore a gossip a great conversationalist by Lisa Kirk

Definitions of a bore a gossip a great conversationalist by Lisa Kirk

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Read More From Toughnickel

Leading Questions

Leading questions are a form of closed-ended questions that are used to try and "lead" the person into agreeing with you or following your thoughts on a particular subject. They are forbidden in courts of law! A leading question would be something like, "Don't you agree?" "Surely, you don't mean to tell me that . . . ?". These questions can be answered with a yes or no, just like all closed questions but they generally end up with the recipient trying to guess what you want them to say and then follow your lead. That is not a conversation, nor is it a useful way of conducting an interview, unless you're trying to get a suspect to admit to a crime.

Job Interviews

Many interviews these days are what is called "competence-based." The jobs are seen as sets of competencies; that is, they are advertised as needing people with certain skills, such as driving, word processing, training experience, proofreading skills, spreadsheet experience, management skills, etc. The job description will contain a set of the skills or experience (the competencies) that you need to have, and the interview should concentrate mainly on these.

The types of questions that will be asked should be "open" questions and are going to be mainly of the kind that starts, "Give me an example of a time when you had to . . . " or "Tell me when you had to . . . ". So, if you were being interviewed for a job in an accounts section but had no qualifications in accountancy, you might be asked a question such as "Give me an example of a time when you had to look after other people's money and account for it." This would give you the opportunity to talk about, for example, the time when you were the treasurer of a local club, and you changed the finances from a loss to profit.

As an interviewee, you can prepare for these types of interviews by asking yourself the question, "Give me an example of a time when you . . . " for each of the stated competencies. Even if the interviewer asks the question in a different format, you will still be prepared with your examples.

If you are the interviewer, you need to find different ways of saying, "Give me an example of a time when . . . ". These could include, "Tell me about . . . ", "Describe a situation where you had to . . . ", etc.

Funnelling an interview

Funnelling an interview

Funnelling an Interview

As an interviewer, you may find open questions a bit difficult in that the interviewee may lead the "conversation" down an unexpected path. For instance, you might ask the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years' time?" expecting the interviewee to describe the career path they hope to take. Instead, they talk about how they intend to aim high for your job. It can be easier to get the person talking about the area you are interested in by using closed or factual questions at the start of each area you want to discuss, then using open questions to open out the conversation.

The interviewer might have been better starting out by asking a closed question such as "Do you have a particular career path you want to follow?". The interviewee could have answered "yes" or "no". The "better" candidate might well interpret the question as a starter for them to add an additional answer such as "yes, I have always wanted to work in a finance office, where I can use my ability with numbers". It is then much easier for the interviewer to use a supplementary question such as, "So where do you think this career path will lead you to in five years' time?"

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 DreamerMeg

What are your thoughts on the different kinds of questions?

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on June 08, 2020:

Communication is vital. And the first lesson to learn on this is listening, IMHO. Maybe all our first communication should be via telephone or radio because we do not get to jusge a person's colour, just their words and how they say them.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 07, 2020:

In light of recent events, communication is more important than ever. If only we could dialog with people and get to know them before judging them on the color of their skin. What do you think?



DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on March 06, 2020:

Thank you very much Denise. I worked in the area, so found plenty of live examples to use.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 05, 2020:

You covered these questions with good examples. I appreciate that. I've heard about Kipling's servants but no such good examples.



DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on August 15, 2018:

Thank you very much. I hope you find it helpful.

Aishatu D Gadzama on August 11, 2018:

Hi Meg,

This is an interesting piece that just charged me up to improve my communication skills.

Your drawings rightly demonstrate different characters we come aross in life when we try to have a conversation.

Its really great and i love it, it makes me wanna stick to hubpages, i will sure learn alot.

Thank you

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on July 14, 2016:

Thank you very much for visiting, commenting and sharing. :)

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on July 04, 2016:

Meg, This is an excellent article on questions for communication skills. This article is of value not only for interviewers, but also for students, teachers, readers, writers, and any other person seeking knowledge or opinions. When I was teaching English as a Foreign Language, open questions were the hardest for my students to ask and answer, but we practiced them a lot. I am sharing this hub with HP followers and also Facebook followers.

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on November 12, 2013:

Thank you very much for your visit and your comment.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 12, 2013:

As a nurse and an instructor, this subject is my cup of tea.

Your balance of visual interest with solid tips makes this a meaningful and valuable article. Voted UP and UABI.

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on October 22, 2013:

No, not a teacher, but I was a management trainer for over 13 years and I loved the job. My husband says that once you've done that, you can't go back to how you were before! Thanks for your comment and for visiting.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 22, 2013:

Really interesting and informative article. Have you ever been a teacher? This is a skill we teachers have to master to make students think and practice expressing themselves. Your examples are great and I love the images you use to accompany the article.

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on October 02, 2013:

Thank you. Yes, I have noticed that sometimes too. I think that stems from insecurity or fear. They are actually FRIGHTENED to ask so and so, for some reason. Fear drives an awful lot of actions, unfortunately. Of course, it might also be them trying to find out more about some situation, by trying to find if someone else knows anything different from themselves.

CraftytotheCore on October 02, 2013:

This is very interesting! I love the graphics you added here. I try to engage others (in my personal life) in meaningful conversation, but some people are gossips. They don't get the concept of having a conversation. They will stop and ask a stranger how is so and so doing instead of asking so and so for themselves. :D

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on January 04, 2013:

Thanks so much for your kind comments and for visiting. I am lucky to have some fun software that helps me create the graphics, because I am no artist! Social skills are not always easy to pick up. I have also been very lucky in finding work years ago as a management trainer and went on many courses, all of which have helped contribute to the background information. And running courses provided me with a wealth of experience of meeting people.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on January 04, 2013:

Hi Meg, I love your little drawings, game play, quiz, and video. (Unfortunately, I'm still only adding a borrowed picture with credit--I work from a public computer without scanning capacity).Your writing skills are excellent--grammar, spelling, punctuation, and idea flow.

It took me years to develop some social skills (role models in one's social circle helps). Your hub is helpful in this regard. Blessings, and keep up the good work!

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on December 13, 2012:

Thank you very much. Yes, once you learn the technique (or what to look out for), you can use it anywhere and it makes conversations so much easier and more interesting, especially if you have to get information from someone who is not a natural conversationalist.

Carolyn from NY on December 13, 2012:

Very informative hub, and very well written! I am so glad you wrote about this topic. I used to work in sales and it really helped me develop the skill of knowing how and when to use open ended vs. closed questions. Since then I have found this skill very useful in many situations. You explain it well. People will really benefit from reading this hub. I voted up!

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on October 21, 2012:

Thank you very much. Yes, some of the questions that start with "Why", "What" etc., can turn out, as you say, to be part of the blame game or even to be closed or feel like part of an interrogation, while others that don't start with these can be open. Maybe that should be an "advanced" hub. Glad you liked it.

Louisa Rogers from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico on October 20, 2012:

Very much enjoyed this, and right up my path, as I teach communication skills. I sometimes suggest rephrasing 'why' questions, depending on the context, because they can come across as an indirect form of criticism, as in, "why didn't you turn this in earlier?"

Also, I liked the way you started the piece off with questions!

look forward to reading more of yours!

DreamerMeg (author) from Northern Ireland on October 17, 2012:

Thank you very much - what a nice word - "engaging". :)

mnemonist on October 16, 2012:

engaging article, thanks for sharing

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