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Questioning techniques: How to get the answers you need


It doesn't cost anything to ask questions - we learn that as children. The idea behind it is that curiosity is one of the most important prerequisites for learning and that the right question at the right time has already brought many people a decisive step forward in life. And even if the answer doesn't turn out as hoped, you have at least tried and usually lost nothing in the process.

But it is not only children who are discovering their surroundings or young professionals who first have to find their way in the working world who benefit from asking questions. Long-time employees also have questions when they have to familiarise themselves with a new area of responsibility. And last but not least, managers also need to ask specific questions if they want to know whether their employees are satisfied and whether there is still room for improvement in the company. With the right questioning techniques, you can influence the conversation so that you get answers that really help you.


  • Questioning techniques: Definition and classification

  • Questioning techniques for professional life


Questions of genuine interest are an essential prerequisite for respectful communication in which, in the best case, both sides learn from each other. In professional life, they are also an effective instrument for achieving certain goals or results. The employee who insistently asks for further training shows commitment and is more likely to be considered for appropriate measures and promotions. The moderator of a meeting can stimulate the participants to creative thinking processes and interesting discussions with targeted questions and thus not only make the meeting more efficient but also arrive at solutions with which everyone is satisfied.

However, as in all areas of professional communication, the wording, timing and intention of questions are important. There are therefore different questioning techniques that are suitable for different situations.

Questioning techniques: Targeted questions designed to get the direct counterpart or an entire group of listeners to respond in a desired way. These techniques can be used to better assess a situation as well as to stimulate discussion or generate ideas.

An important distinction in questions, which many people have known since their school days, is that between open and closed questions. While open questions optimally stimulate reflection and lead to a lively exchange of opinions, closed questions already give the possible answers, primarily serve to control knowledge and can be answered with one word (so-called yes-no questions) or a short sentence. For this reason, it is advisable to ask open-ended questions in presentations in order to motivate your classmates to cooperate. This can also work later in professional meetings. If, on the other hand, you want to avoid unnecessary discussions and achieve results quickly, closed questions are the right way to go.


Open and closed questions, however, are only the two upper categories for a whole catalogue of questioning techniques that you can use in your everyday professional life. Which method is most promising depends on the situation. Depending on whether it is an annual meeting between boss and employee or a project meeting, different goals are pursued for which different questioning techniques are suitable. While an appraisal interview benefits from a trusting and calm atmosphere, moderation techniques focus on stimulating the participants to lively discussions and solution-oriented ideas.

In practice, it is most effective if you do not stick to a single pre-selected method, but combine different variants. This way you can react flexibly within the framework of the conversation.

We explain below which questioning techniques are best suited for which interview situations. All the question types listed below can be formulated as open or closed questions. Which variant you choose should also depend on the mood of the participants in the conversation and how much time you have available for the conversation.

Introductory question

The introductory question serves to create a good basis for the conversation and should be formulated accordingly in an open and positive manner. For example, in an annual interview, you can ask which situations the employee found particularly positive or which successes he or she is particularly proud of.

In meetings, prioritising the agenda is a good way to start. Ask the participants which topics are particularly important to them and adjust the agenda accordingly in the teamwork. This makes everyone present feel taken seriously and creates a constructive working atmosphere.

Hypothetical question

With hypothetical questions, you ask your counterpart to imagine a situation that has nothing to do with (current) reality. This questioning technique is particularly suitable as a starting point for brainstorming, where solutions to concrete problems or tasks are to be found. Ask, for example, "How would you implement the order if you had unlimited time to do it?" or "How would you design the advertising campaign if you didn't have to consider the customer's wishes?", then you get your discussion partners to look at the question from a new perspective and to deviate from habitual thought patterns. This is the best prerequisite for innovative ideas.

Circular question

Circular questions are about the interviewee not judging their options or behaviours from their own position, but looking at them from a different perspective. This is done by asking questions such as "As a representative of department X, which solution would you prefer?" or "As an investor, would you be convinced that this idea would be successful?"

With these questions, you can loosen up deadlocked discussions and, in the best case, even persuade stubborn principle riders to compromise.

Paradoxical question

An interesting and definitely entertaining mind game can be stimulated by paradoxical questions. Here, you reverse the actual question and formulate questions such as "How can we definitely not finish the project on time?" or "What would have to happen for you to quit your job?"

From the answers, you can deduce which factors bother the interviewees the most and what are the most important construction sites to work on in order to optimise projects or daily processes.

Ask for feedback or justification

Do not leave answers uncommented, but ask for more detailed explanations or reasons. With such follow-up questions, you signal interest and at the same time encourage the interviewee to reflect on his or her previous statement, explain it in more detail or correct it if necessary.

Emotional question

Especially in one-on-one interviews such as annual feedback or salary negotiations, it is important to create an atmosphere of trust. For this reason, feeling questions such as "What developments are worrying you?" or "How do you feel in your new position?" are quite appropriate.

Future question

After ideas or suggestions for improvement have been gathered, the many words must be followed by actions. Future questions such as "Who will take care of implementing this idea?" or "By when can we complete measure X?" are aimed at this. Only in this way can a long meeting ultimately result in concrete actions and results that can be recorded in the minutes.

Solution question

The solution question also aims at tangible results - at the same time, it is an effective means of ending eternal discussions that go around in circles.


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