Open, Closed, Probing, Clarity & Relevance?  The Skill of Asking Good Questions!

Good questioning skills are a building block of successful communication with clients. When we first meet clients and are conducting our intake procedure, questions are one of our best tools for establishing what is happening, when and how, and what the client would like their pet to do instead. You know the old saying, garbage in and garbage out. During our interview, we are collecting anecdotal data and we need to collect everything we need to really understand what is going on. Using questions will help us to collect this data, drill down and establish the facts.

Open Questions

Open questions get their name because the response is open-ended; the answerer has a wide range of options to choose from when answering it. Open questions use one of six words as a root:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. Where?
  4. When?
  5. Why?
  6. How?

Open questions are like going fishing with a net – you never know what you’re going to get! Open questions are great conversation starters, fact finders, and communication enhancers. Use them whenever possible.

Closed Questions

Closed questions are the opposite of open questions; their very structure limits the answer to yes or no, or a specific piece of information. Some examples include:

  • Do you enjoy your puppy?
  • Your Puppy is less than 4 months old?
  • Has your puppy soiled in the house?

Although closed questions tend to shut down communication, they can be useful if you are searching for a particular piece of information or winding a conversation down. If you use a closed question and it shuts down the conversation, simply use an open-ended question to get things started again. Here is an example:

Closed Question: So your Puppy has growled at you?

Answer: Yes.

Open Question: Please describe what you experienced?

Probing Questions

In addition to the basic open and closed questions, there is also a toolbox of probing questions that we can use. These questions can be open or closed, but each type serves a specific purpose.

Clarification – By probing for clarification, you invite the other person to share more information so that you can fully understand their message.

Clarification questions often look like this:

  • “Please tell me more about…”
  • “What did you mean by…”
  • “What does … look like?” (Any of the five senses can be used here)

Completeness and Correctness

These types of questions can help you ensure you have the full, true story. Having all the facts, in turn, can protect you from assuming and jumping to conclusions – two fatal barriers to communication.

Some examples of these questions include:

  • “What else happened after that?”
  • “Did that end the …”

Determining Relevance

This category will help you determine how or if a particular point is related to the conversation at hand. It can also help you get the other speaker  back on track from a tangent.

Some good ways to frame relevance questions are:

  • “How is that like…”
  • “How does that relate to…”

Drilling Down – Use these types of questions to nail down vague statements.

Useful helpers include:

  • “Describe…”
  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “Could you please give an example?”


These questions are framed more like a statement. They pull together all the relevant points. They can be used to confirm to the listener that you heard what was said, and to give them an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.

Example: “So you choose a puppy, did some training with it and you are still having biting problems?”

Be careful not to avoid repeating the speaker’s words back to them like a parrot. Remember, paraphrasing means repeating what you think the speaker said in your own words.

If you ask the wrong question, of course,  you get the wrong answer – Amory Lovins