How to Ask Questions

Working as a therapist, you learn to ask leading questions, open questions, and questions that get people thinking.  You also teach people how to ask questions in a way that is helpful and that can help get answers.  Sometimes, you also have to teach when not to ask questions.  There is always a time for questions, but there is also an art.  I don’t usually ask a question that I don’t answer for myself in context, and I am often amazed at the answers that I get at times.  No matter what, learning how to ask questions is important to getting the information you need at the moment.

There are lots of kinds of questions that people ask, but lets talk about leading, open, and thinking questions.  Leading questions lead someone into a topic that you would like to discuss.  Open questions offer a chance to answer in many different ways, but don’t really define a response and can be enlightening when you are looking for a direction.  Questions to get people thinking include options, best or worst case type questions, or a way to introduce information to then ask leading questions.

Most questions are designed to get information, the hope is that the person is fishing for healthy, positive reasons.  At times, however, people ask questions with the intent of using the information against someone.  When working with individuals and couples, the idea is to help with communication and learn how to ask questions, which helps improve communication.  This is a part of teaching and learning communication skills, but at times it’s also about what to ask and what not to ask.

When it comes to learning when not to ask questions, I work with couples and individuals around times when not to ask questions.  When someone is intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs, it’s not a time to ask questions until they are sober and clean, and can focus on the conversation.  When someone has significant depression or anxiety, and they are struggling, that is also not a time to ask questions.  Damage can be done to the relationship that can be hard to overcome if the answers are not helpful or supportive.  Working with couples, one partner might ask the other partner how they are feeling about the relationship.  Someone struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues may provide answers that the other partner doesn’t want to hear.  A couple at one point were struggling because the wife was trying to help the husband think in a more positive manner by asking the husband to talk about good times in the marriage.  When the husband couldn’t come up with anything, the wife was hurt and the relationship suffered.

Knowing how and when to ask questions is important for communication and for relationships.  It’s hard enough to make relationships work when it’s so easy to leave.  Without knowing it, I think people respond to questions without fully thinking about the consequences, especially in the heat of the moment.  To have a real, open discussion takes two healthy people, with no underlying agenda, and the ability to be honest.  Sometimes, one partner will try to manipulate the other by providing or withholding information.  That’s not helpful.

When you think about asking questions, and getting information, do it in a way that is helpful and supportive, but also in a way that is timely and honest.  A healthy, loving relationship is a part of real happiness.  Don’t settle for less.  Hold out for the honesty, and it will help you be happy for life.