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How to Ask Open-Ended Questions That Spark Good Conversation

Did you know? When you ask someone questions about themselves, it makes you more likable1!

But research shows, the way you ask a question2 makes a big difference, too. 

Some of the best conversations start with open-ended questions that lead people to open up and form deeper connections.

In this article, we’ll look at open-ended questions, their benefits, and various scenarios where you can use them to boost your conversation skills (and likeability!).

What are Open-Ended Questions?

Open-ended questions are questions that are designed to encourage people to share more than a one-word response and typically start with words like “what,” “how,” or “why.” Open-ended questions help people expound on an idea or issue and carry the conversation forward without getting stunted in potentially awkward silence or little to no information for someone else to bounce off of.

Some of the best places to use open-ended questions include:

  • Social gatherings
  • Dates
  • Networking events
  • Job interviews
  • Feedback meetings
  • Sales calls
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Qualitative survey data research
  • Counseling and therapy sessions
  • Conversations with kids (or anyone!)
  • Medical appointments

“Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”

—Dale Carnegie

To avoid stunting your conversations, you may want to stay away from closed-ended questions. But what’s the difference? Let’s look at how to avoid those awkward silences.

What’s the Difference Between Closed-Ended and Open-Ended Questions? 

Closed-ended questions lead people to give a one-word response like “yes” or “no,” whereas open-ended questions are great conversation starters or boosters that help bring energy to an interaction.

How you ask or write open-ended vs. closed-ended questions comes down to a few simple adjustments to the words you choose to ask your question. 

To write a more open-ended question, think about where you want to lead the conversation and consider adjusting your opening words.

Open-ended questions often begin with words like this:

  • What…
  • How…
  • Why…
  • Tell me about…
  • Describe…

Closed-ended questions tend to start with words like this:

  • When…
  • Are…
  • Did/do…
  • Can…
  • Will…
  • Have…

Open-ended vs. Close-ended Question Examples

Here are some examples of how you might start a conversation and the difference an open-ended, energizing question can make.

Let’s say you’re asking someone about their recent vacation. Which question do you think will lead to a more conversational response?

  • Closed-ended: Did you have a good vacation?
  • Open-ended: What was your favorite part of your vacation? 

Let’s say you’re interviewing someone for a job. Which question will tell you more about them?

  • Close-ended: Are you an organized person?
  • Open-ended: What do you do throughout your day to stay organized?

Let’s say you’re on a date. Which question will make your date feel like you want to get to know them?

  • Closed-ended: Do you get along with your parents?
  • Open-ended: How do you get along with your parents?

Closed-ended questions may not always lead to “yes” or “no” responses. Sometimes they can lead to short answers as well. For example:

Closed-ended: What’s your favorite color?

The answer to this question will likely be something short, like “blue.”

One simple way to turn this question into an open-ended question is not necessarily to dismiss the closed-ended question altogether, but to follow it up with an open-ended question as well. For example:

Open-ended: What’s your favorite color and why?

It should be noted that there is a time and place for closed-ended questions. They are not inherently “bad,” but they generally don’t work as well to keep conversations going. 

Let’s look at some of the benefits of open-ended questions and examples to keep your conversations going in different scenarios!

What are the Advantages and Benefits of Open-Ended Questions?

Why are open-ended questions important? Some of the best conversations2 are generated from open-ended questions that lead people to open up and form deeper connections.

Here are some of the other benefits of open-ended questions:

  • Bring energy to a conversation. By increasing likeability1 and simultaneously making others feel more confident, there’s a natural energy induced into the conversation!
  • Reduce awkward silences. A close-ended question might cut a conversation short, but an open-ended question might keep it moving along. 
  • Boost self-esteem. As people feel your interest in them with open-ended questions, they may get a confidence boost. Your interest makes them feel more interesting!
  • Provide better feedback. Instead of a one-sided view, open-ended questions provide a clearer picture from various perspectives about a situation, ultimately allowing people to solve problems better and address issues.
  • Encourage people to open up. Open-ended questions feel like permission to share feelings and ideas with others who are interested in hearing them.

Watch our video below to learn how to start a conversation with anyone using these killer conversation starters:

Now that we understand what open-ended questions are and their benefits, let’s dive into the best scenarios where we can use them with examples for each category.

110 Open-Ended Question Examples 

Open-Ended Questions for Any Social Gathering

Open-ended questions are great for any social situation, and we have lots of great question ideas to spark conversation with anyone. Here are a few to get you started!

  1. What are you looking forward to this week?
  2. What’s your most memorable vacation?
  3. What do you love most about what you do?
  4. What cheers you up on a bad day?
  5. If you could have any five people at a dinner party, who would be there and why?
  6. What do you miss most about your childhood?
  7. What’s something people are usually surprised to learn about you?
  8. Tell me about the last TV show or movie you loved (or hated).
  9. What do you love most about where you live?
  10. Who’s been the most inspirational person in your life and why?

Open-Ended Questions for a Guy or Girl You’re Dating

If you want to get to know someone on a deeper level, using thoughtful, open-ended questions is a great way to get there. They’re also a great way to boost someone’s self-esteem by making you appear more engaged and interested in what they have to share. Here are a few open-ended questions to ask on a date!

  1. If money were no object, and you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  2. What was the last thing that made you laugh to tears?
  3. What was your favorite thing to do growing up?
  4. When you were a child, where did you imagine you might be today?
  5. What activities make time feel like it’s flying by?
  6. How would you describe your perfect day?
  7. What are you most grateful for in this season of your life?
  8. What’s something you’re proud of doing in your life?
  9. What is your most treasured memory?
  10. If you could be famous for something, what would you want to be famous for doing?

For more dating icebreakers, try one of these 131 non-awkward ideas!

Open-Ended Questions for Networking Events

Networking events are classic places for open-ended questions and icebreakers with people you’re meeting for the first time. Want to avoid awkward silence? Use an open-ended question!

  1. What kind of people are you hoping to meet here today?
  2. What’s your background, and how did you get to where you are now?
  3. What’s the most exciting thing you’ve been working on lately?
  4. What’s this work season like for you?
  5. What kind of problems are you trying to solve these days?
  6. What kind of projects would you love to get into if you had more capacity?
  7. What are your goals for the next season?
  8. What’s something that inspires you when you’re having a rough day?
  9. What’s something you wish people knew about you?
  10. What’s been the biggest twist or surprise in your (career or personal) journey?

Open-Ended Questions for Job Interviews

Job interviews are a great place for both the interviewer and the interviewee to ask open-ended questions to help understand what each other is bringing to the table to inform better decision-making. 

Questions for interviewers:

  1. What’s your greatest professional achievement?
  2. How would your boss or coworkers describe you?
  3. What motivates you?
  4. How do you like to be managed?
  5. What’s something I should know about you that might not be on your resume?

Questions for interviewees:

  1. What do you enjoy about working at the company?
  2. What are your goals going into the next year?
  3. How do you see this role best helping you achieve your goals?
  4. What are your biggest opportunities going into next year?
  5. What are the top three qualities you’re looking for in this role?

Open-Ended Questions for Feedback Meetings

Open-ended questions, when you give and receive feedback, are a great way to open up a conversation and understand where the other side is coming from more clearly. Here are some questions you can ask after a project is complete:

  1. What are the things that went right on our latest project?
  2. What was confusing about the last project?
  3. How did we fall short on the last project?
  4. What are our opportunities for growth?
  5. What is our biggest learning from this experience?
  6. How would we do this differently next time?
  7. Where were we working on our strengths? Our weaknesses?
  8. If we need to, how could we reorganize for a better outcome?
  9. What kind of support or resources do we need to improve next time?
  10. What are you looking forward to next time?

Open-Ended Questions for Brainstorming Sessions

Open-ended questions used in brainstorming sessions are a great way to get people’s juices and ideas flowing as they begin to open up their imaginations. Here are a few questions to get you started in your next brainstorming session.

  1. What’s the best thing that can happen?
  2. If money were no object, and we knew we could not fail, what might we try to do?
  3. What’s the big problem we’re trying to solve?
  4. When you imagine success for this project, what do you see?
  5. What makes us unique in solving this problem?
  6. What can we learn from past mistakes and successes?
  7. What obstacles do we have to overcome?
  8. What opportunities or low-hanging fruit do we need to pay attention to?
  9. What are others doing to solve this problem? How are we different?
  10. In one year, what will matter most about what happens with this project?

Open-Ended Questions for Sales Conversations

Open-ended questions during a sales conversation help salespeople understand the needs of their customers and make them feel heard and understood. Here are some open-ended sales questions to put your potential customers at ease:

  1. Tell me about yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish.
  2. What is one of your biggest challenges?
  3. What are your goals?
  4. What are your opportunities for growth?
  5. What kind of resources/services are you using now?
  6. What do you wish the resources/services you had did better?
  7. What kind of resources/services do you wish you had?
  8. What kinds of things are you looking for in a product/service?
  9. What are your biggest priorities this season?
  10. What are your criteria to determine whether or not you will move forward with a product/service?

Open-Ended Questions for Surveys & Research

Open-ended questions are a great way for researchers in any industry to explore and expound upon their data, including some of the close-ended, quantitative responses. 

For example, a survey might say, “Would you recommend our services to a friend?” They might then ask an open-ended question like, “Tell us why you would recommend our services to a friend.” to explore the qualitative data behind the close-ended response.

Note that most of the questions below are written in the context of a product or service. However, survey questions vary by industry and purpose (e.g., scientists!). The most important thing to remember is to keep open-ended questions specific to your intention of providing qualitative data you can learn from.

  1. What do you like about this product/service?
  2. What would improve your experience?
  3. How would you describe the company/product/service to a friend?
  4. If you could change one thing about X, what would it be?
  5. What made you choose X over another product/service?
  6. What can we do to serve you better?
  7. What is the best feature of our product/service?
  8. If X wasn’t available, what would you do/use instead?
  9. Why did you decide to work with us vs. someone else?
  10. How do you use our product/service?

Open-Ended Questions for Counseling & Therapy Sessions

Open-ended questions are common for counselors or therapists to ask clients because they help them process their feelings and thoughts more clearly. Here are a few open-ended questions you might hear during therapy:

  1. What brings you here today?
  2. How does that make you feel?
  3. What have you done in the past to deal with this issue?
  4. How does it feel in your body?
  5. Tell me about a time you felt X as a child. What happened?
  6. What is your relationship like with your parents?
  7. What emotions do you feel as you talk about that?
  8. How did you feel when X happened?
  9. Tell me more about that…
  10. What do you want to do?

Open-Ended Questions for Medical Appointments

Open-ended medical questions3 are helpful for those in healthcare4 to get a deeper understanding of the issues their patients might be experiencing. Here are some examples of open-ended questions from a doctor or nurse you might hear as a patient:

  1. What brings you here today?
  2. What are your concerns?
  3. What questions do you have?
  4. How are you taking your medications?
  5. What symptoms are you experiencing?
  6. Describe what it feels like…
  7. What else is bothering you?
  8. What happened?
  9. What would you like me to address first?
  10. What are you afraid of?

Open-Ended Questions for Conversations with Kids

Asking kids how their day is will often receive a short response. (Any parents out there relate?!) But if you can frame your questions to inspire them to share, you might be surprised by their openness (this goes for preschoolers all the way up to high schoolers!).

  1. What was the best part of your day?
  2. What are three things you’re grateful for today?
  3. If you could choose to have any superpower, what would it be and why?
  4. If you could time travel, where would you go and why?
  5. What do you love most about your friends?
  6. Tell me about your favorite teacher and why they’re special.
  7. What are you excited about doing this weekend?
  8. What’s something you wish you could do if you had the skills/strength/know-how?
  9. What do you think technology will be like in 100 years?
  10. If you could change something about how the world works, what would you change?

Master your conversation skills with this great resource from Science of People!

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Open-Ended Questions FAQs

Why does an employer typically ask open-ended questions?

Employers and potential employers ask open-ended questions to give them a better understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of. 
Open-ended questions during the interview process often provide an opportunity for the interviewee to share stories about how they solved problems, overcame obstacles, or succeeded in a specific project. They also provide answers that help employers better determine whether or not to hire someone. 
Open-ended questions are also an excellent way for employers to understand the processes their current employees go through so they can provide better feedback.

When should you use close-ended questions vs. open-ended questions?

Close-ended questions should be asked when you need a specific answer. An open-ended question should be asked when you’re interested in qualitative information or a better understanding of someone’s unique experience.
In a survey, for example, you might want to ask a close-ended question for a data point that needs to be measured, like, “Do you recommend this product?” However, to understand someone’s unique experience, you might ask an open-ended question like, “Why don’t you recommend this product?” 
In the context of social interaction, close-ended questions are OK when you’re looking for specific information: “When do you want to grab lunch?” However, you would ask an open-ended question to learn more about someone’s unique perspective: “What are your favorite lunch places in the neighborhood?”

Why do educators use open-ended questions with their students?

Open-ended questions are a common tactic used by educators for inquiry-based learning. This method is used because open-ended questions often inspire greater curiosity and problem-solving. For example, rather than telling a student what to think, they are thoughtfully guided with open-ended questions to explore solutions to problems. 

Open-Ended Questions Key Takeaways

In summary, remember these benefits of open-ended questions.

  • Bring energy to a conversation. By increasing likeability and simultaneously making others feel more confident, there’s a natural energy induced into the conversation!
  • Reduce awkward silences. A close-ended question might cut a conversation short, but an open-ended question keeps it moving along. 
  • Boost self-esteem. As people feel your interest in them with open-ended questions, they may get a confidence boost. Your interest makes them feel more interested!
  • Provide better feedback. Instead of a one-sided view, open-ended questions provide a clearer picture from various perspectives, ultimately allowing people to solve and address problems better.
  • Encourage people to open up. Open-ended questions feel like permission to share feelings and ideas with others interested in hearing them.

For more conversation-starter ideas, check out our article for 57 killer conversation-starters to start a conversation with anyone. 

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