So often as a consultant, we believe we know best.  We can solve the client’s problems. And yet, if we don’t help the client get clear on what they really want, explore possibility with them and truly understand their goals, we can’t be sure we will give them what they really want.

I am an entrepreneur and have learned the value of asking open questions.

When I do, I learn so much about what my clients want and need. If I don’t know, how can I meet or hopefully exceed their expectations.

Open or Closed:

An open question is one that can’t be answered with ‘yes’ or  ‘no’. They begin with who, what, where, when, how. A closed question can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Closed questions serve a different purpose than open ones.  If I ask you ‘do you want chicken for dinner tonight?’ I am asking a closed question. If I ask you ‘what do you want for dinner tonight?’  it is open and your response will need to be very different.

Take a moment to ask yourself each of these questions.  What do you experience with each one? How are these experiences different? The closed question tends to narrow our response while an open question opens us to possibility.

All Open Questions are Not Created Equal:

There are 3 different types of open questions.  These include:

Leading Open Questions:

One asks these questions when they already know the answer.  A consultant, seeking confirmation may ask a client an open leading question to confirm elements of their contract to ensure clarity, that they are on the same page.

Judging Open Questions:

These questions can’t be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and the person inquiring has a judging tone or attitude.  

For example – ‘why did you do such a stupid thing?’.  The asker doesn’t know the answer and is using a blaming/shaming approach both in words spoken and most likely tone used.   These are not questions I would suggest you ever use with a client – if you want to keep them. I intentionally used ‘why’ to exaggerate the judging approach.

Curious Open Questions:

These questions are asked when you want information and don’t already know the answer.  Remaining open and non-judging, you seek to better understand the wants and needs of your client.  These questions also provide an opportunity for your client to explore possibility and get clear on what they want, what their success will look like.  You will need an open and non-judging approach when asking them. These are the questions where magic happens, where you and your client can truly connect, understand their wants and needs and create new opportunities, thoughts and innovation.   These questions will ensure you deliver on the expectations of your client.

Why are Curious Open Questions So Important?

When you ask curious open questions you succeed in two ways.  You help your client explore possibilities to get clear on what they want AND you get clear on what they want and how you can deliver on their expectations.  Without this, success with this client is a bit of a ‘crap shoot’.

How To Create Magical Questions To Exceed Client Expectations:

  1. Listen to what your client is saying.  This means stop multi-tasking with judging closed thoughts.  Open yourself to possibility, free of judging.
  2. As you listen to the client explain their expectations, think about what you want to learn more about.  Whatever it is, just put ‘what’ or ‘how’ as the first word and create a question. This is a curious open question and gives your client an opportunity to share their thoughts, their perspectives.  
  3. As you ask more open questions, you will see the potential for exploring possibility to discover new effective ways to solve their problem.
  4. If you feel tension creeping in, where your emotional buttons are beginning to be touched, ask a curious open question and then another.  You will notice your emotions wash away and you are more able to connect with your client to better understand their ideas and find common ground upon which to move forward and develop a strategy for success.

Open questions are a wonderful way to explore with your clients, provided you are open and non-judging in discovering possibility, which can lead to greater connection and more effective solutions.  This leads to engagement, innovation, collaboration and mutual respect and helps ensure your success as a consultant.

Kathy Taberner

Kathy Taberner

Co-Founder of The Institute Of Curiosity

Kathy Taberner is a retired occupational therapist, Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with a MA in leadership and training.  With her daughter, she is a co-founder of the Institute of Curiosity and co-author of the ‘Power of Curiosity’. She is committed to supporting women to strive to become the dynamic and successful leaders they want to be.  Her research project for her Masters explored the leadership styles and emotional intelligence of senior female leaders in BC.

She and her husband of many years, share their time between the Okanagan and Vancouver.

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