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Exercise 4: Ask Closed & Open Questions

There are two types of question:

The closed question which demands a single answer. For example: 'How old are you?' 'What time is it?' 'Did you go to the concert last night?'

The open question which demands an unlimited amount of information. For example, ask an opinion, that may build on the answer to a closed question: 'What was the concert like?'

In pairs, ask your partner a closed question followed by an open question. Your partner gives the answers to each of these questions. To show you have listened properly, repeat or paraphrase the answer to the open question back to your partner, who corrects you or acknowledges that you duplicated their answer properly.

When you have this mastered, then swap over roles. Remember to ensure that previous exercises are still being practiced, i.e. that you are comfortably being and accepting what is, without going into a reactive mode; that you communicate with adequate intention to reach and be understood clearly; that you always obtain an answer to your question, and acknowledge the answer.

When receiving an answer to your open question, sometimes it helps to show you are listening and understanding by giving a HALF-ACKNOWLEDGEMENT - this is not a strong acknowledgement that would end the cycle of communication prematurely, but just a small nod of the head or 'hm-hm' or similar, that helps to keep the flow going.

Also, the requirement not to be reactive in response to the other does not mean you should be impassive. For example, you would respond naturally to a humorous remark, or say 'I understand' to an intimate one. However, two things it is very important NOT TO DO:

  1. Invalidate the information that you obtain.
  2. Impose your evaluation about the information received.

In counseling, these are the BIG SINS, as the aim of therapy is to encourage the individual to express their feelings, to look newly and without fear, in order to see more clearly. The person needs to discover for themselves, and any invalidation or evaluation ruins the process.

But even in everyday relationships, to invalidate the other's opinion or to give your irrelevant or premature evaluation is most unhelpful. Give facts and ask pertinent questions, but never tell someone they are wrong or give your opinion before they ask you.

You listen to what the other person says and ask further questions as necessary, for example if you didn't understand what was meant or if you need clarification or more information. These are called clarifying and extending questions.

Statement: 'People can be very lazy sometimes.'
Clarifying questions: 'In what situations do you find people lazy?' 'All people?'
Extending question: 'What other characteristics do you ascribe to people in general?'

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Continue to the next page, Exercise 5

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