If you can’t seem to start a lengthy conversation by asking a couple of questions, you’re likely doing it wrong. When people read the preceding line, they think: “how is it even possible to ask questions wrongly with an above average proficiency in the English language?”
It turns out that proficiency in the English language isn’t all that is needed when asking questions, especially when trying to start a discussion. For a meaningful conversation to hold as a result of your questions, you should ask open-ended questions to spur a discussion.
If you’re not sure what an open-ended question means, don’t fret; this article will explain open-ended questions and analyze the differences between open-ended and close-ended questions. In addition to that, you’ll get a list of the most common open-ended questions to give you a few conversation starters.
What’s an Open-Ended Question?
Open-ended questions are those queries that are practically impossible or difficult to answer with a simple word or phrase. They require elaborate and well-thought-out responses that often change, based on the perspectives or personal experiences of the person answering the question.
It’s best to use open-ended questions when you’re engaging in discussions that require lengthy conversations. Some examples of those discussions include an interview or a date since you always want the other party to keep talking, except, maybe when you’re talking.
There’s almost always a way to phrase a close-ended question as an open-ended question if you’re willing to try. Also, it’s very rewarding to try because you’ll enjoy the conversation if that’s the goal of the discussion.
While open-ended questions should reflect the topic of the discussion, there’s not always a topic. What would you say is the theme of a date where you want to keep your date talking, but you don’t know the right questions to get this done.
Fortunately, you can always ask general and casual questions when it comes to getting someone to talk without a specific topic in mind. Since that’s the whole point of this article, you’ll get a list of open-ended questions, but before them, let’s also look at what close-ended questions mean and how they can be useful in some scenarios.
What’s a Close-Ended Question?
Close-ended questions are the opposite of open-ended questions; and as you might have already guessed, they’re questions that have a very specific and determinable answer. Common answers to close-ended questions include yes, no, absolutely, and other similar one-word answers with no further explanations.
While it makes a lot of sense to ask open-ended questions in most scenarios, they’re not useful for every scenario. Open-ended questions only work when you need to start a lengthy conversation, and while that’s what you want in a lot of cases, conversations are not the goal in some cases.
For instance, if you’re collecting sample data for a study to plot a graph, you’ll need raw data that you can translate into statistics. Since there’s no way to represent someone’s eight-minute explanations of their experience with your product in a graph, you’ll have to stick with close-ended questions.
On the other hand, you don’t want to go with close-ended questions in situations where you want to keep the conversation going; like dates, for example. You seriously don’t want your date to keep answering yes or no to every question without coming up with any story that might make the conversation interesting.
If you don’t want that to happen, then you have to start coming up with open-ended questions, and quickly. However, the truth is that it’s hard to come up with them, but you can use some help from the following section.
Open-Ended Questions List
At this point, you should already know what open-ended questions and close-ended questions are. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the ability to ask those questions during a conversation. Questions that you think are open-ended might be the opposite.
Since I’m not ready to facilitate a course on how to ask open-ended questions, I’ve figured out an alternative way to help you out. Here, I’ll show you some common open-ended questions to consider asking if you intend to make a conversation longer.
Here, I’ll be assuming you’re engaging in a random discussion. To that end, you should note that the questions won’t particularly apply to any specific topic. With that said, here’s your open-ended questions list.
1- What’s your definition of success in life?
Different people have different definitions of success. To some, it’s simply having a lot of money, while to others, it’s the abundance of fame and respect. “What does success mean to you?” is a question you should ask when trying to get a person talking during a conversation.
2- What impact did schooling have on your development as a person?
At this point, almost everyone on the planet has gone or will go to school at some point in their lives. Surely, schooling has made some, if not the most impact on their development as an all-around person. If you want to have a person talk a lot about schooling, ask them how much impact it has made on that person.
3- Why and how did you make your career choice?
There’s usually some inspiration behind your chosen career and how you discovered it in the first place. That’s how it is for most other people out there. If you’re trying to keep a conversation in motion, consider asking what made them settle for their current career choice.
4- How has your favorite book influenced your life and career?
If you’re interviewing a public figure, chances are that they read a lot of books. From that collection, they usually have one they can describe as their favorite. This question forces them to go back to their favorite book and try to determine how it has changed their life and career.
5- What was the scariest dream you’ve had?
There are dreams, and there are nightmares. While dreams are often neutral or good, nightmares never end well, since they do a pretty good job of getting you scared. If you’re having a discussion among your friends, asking this should bring up a long story about a scary dream experience they’ve had.
6- In your opinion, what do you think needs to change about this country?
Many people hold strong opinions about the happenings in the country, and they have every legal right to do so. If you have an opportunity to discuss with a person, you can ask them what they think needs to change about the country; a conversation starter every time, trust me.
7- What do you think about (insert popular political figure)?
You can either love or hate a celebrity; there’s no in-between. Come to think of it, some celebrities aren’t decent people, so nothing prevents you from disliking them and dissociating yourself from them. You can ask someone else’s opinion of a controversial figure to keep a conversation going.
8- What are the steps required to cook your favorite meal?
Do I need to explain why this made it to the list of common open-ended questions? If you can explain how to cook your favorite meal without exceeding three words, I’ll remove this number entirely; I’m here waiting.
9- What’s your most memorable vacation experience; how did it go?
Everyone has those vacation experiences they will never forget if they’re vacation people, to begin with in the first place. This question forces you to throw back to that specific vacation and recount your experiences, especially the part that made the experience unforgettable.
10- If you could do anything you wanted, how would you make the world a better place?
While this question could be close-ended, asking it within a conversational scenario always elicits an open-ended answer. It turns out that when people tell you what they think will make the world better, they also have the personal obligation to explain why they do so.
11- What’s the plot of your favorite movie?
Asking about the plot of a movie or book they enjoy is another clever way to get someone talking by asking a simple question. This question typically comes after a “what’s your favorite movie?” question, since it’s logical and won’t kill off your conversation instantly, as other close-ended questions will.
12- How do you think the world will end?
Everyone has different opinions of the end of the world, influenced by their culture, religion, or purely by science. When having a casual discussion with someone, you can introduce the question about what they think of the end of the world, and you’ll get a lengthy answer.
13- What’s your opinion on abortion?
While you may think the vast majority of people hold your opinion when it comes to a trending but a sensitive topic like gun laws or abortion, you’ll be surprised that a lot of people don’t. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it only shows our differences. You shouldn’t shy away from asking about other people’s opinions too.
14- What’s your worst vacation experience, and what did you hate so much about it?
If you’re thinking: “but I’ve seen a vacation question above!” Yes, you have, but there’s a pretty big difference between a memorable vacation and your worst vacation. This question is essentially asking if the answerer has an experience that made them hate vacations, and if they do, get ready for some lengthy presentation.
15- How would you prepare for an impending zombie apocalypse?
While we’ve never encountered zombies out in the real world, we’ve watched enough zombie movies to know how it would feel to be in the middle of an apocalypse. When talking about a zombie movie or show, you may want to insert the question to hear excited and clever ideas.
16- What’s one popular thing that annoys you?
There’s always that popular person, object, or phenomenon that doesn’t make any sense to you, making it very annoying. Good news, it’s not just you; many people have strong opinions about a lot of popular things too. Also, they’ll have plenty of lengthy stories to tell if you’re only willing to ask.
17- Have you ever been involved in a life-threatening situation? How did it go?
A life-threatening situation is one where you or some other person is at the risk of dying. For every normal person, the chances are pretty high that they will be involved in a life or death situation at least once in their lives. You can ask people if they’ve ever been involved to hear interesting stories.
18- What do you think happens when we die?
In addition to how they think the world would end, people’s idea of what happens when we die is another topic that appears to be heavily influenced by religion or culture. The beliefs that many people have about the afterlife will shock you, but you won’t know until you ask.
19- What was the silliest excuse you’ve made and what was the context?
We all make excuses, but some excuses are sillier than the others. In some cases, you’ll burst out laughing after making an excuse for how stupid it sounds to you. You can also ask about their silliest excuses to hear some stories that will make you laugh.
20- Do you think the future will be better than the present?
In a history discussion, asking about the possibility of the future getting better than the present is a very valid question. Also, most people won’t answer the question with a simple yes or no; it’s either they don’t care enough to answer the question or they care so much that they’ll offer a 30-minute explanation.
Asking open-ended questions is an interesting way to keep a conversation going, as I’ve explained earlier. Also, there are a few things harder than having to come up with open-ended questions on the fly without prior preparation.
To that end, this article contains 20 open-ended questions you’ll ever need to use in a conversation. Unless the conversation has a particular theme (that I can’t help you with), then you should be able to use some of the questions in this collection to supercharge your conversation.
Finally, you have reached the end of my list of Open-Ended Questions List.
Now I would love to hear from you:
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