Do you sometimes struggle with getting informations from your children about how their schoolday was, about how they feel or what they’re up to? Sometimes it’s difficult to get real answers. Not only from our children…
If we ask “How was school today?”, “How did you like the film/play?”, “How was your work today?” we usually get short answers like “good/fine/ok” which doesn’t really tell a lot. Sometimes the intonation of the answer helps us to find out the nuance of what the respondent means, but we can avoid the guessing-game by using the right questions.
In her article “25 ways to ask your kids ‘So how was school today?’ without asking them ‘So how was school today?’“, and the follow up post “28 ways to ask your teens ‘How was school today?’ without asking them ‘How was school today?’” Liz Evans gives many great examples of engaging questions to ask our children – but these questions can also be used for engaging with our partners, friends, collegues.
What they all have in common is that they are open questions. – When we ask questions about school, work, training etc. what we really need to do is to engage in a conversation with our children, friends or partners.
Questions like “How was your school/day today?” or “Did you have a nice day at school/work?” can be answered by a single word or a short phrase. The same applies to questions like “How old are you?”, “Where do you live?” etc. These are closed questions: they are easy and quick to answer and the control of the conversation stays with the questioner.
If we use open questions, not only we get longer answers, but we hand the control of the conversation to the respondent. We want our respondent to reflect and think, and he will (most probably) tell us his feelings and opinions.
In English, open questions begin with what, why, how, describe etc. What did you like the most at school/at work etc. today? How did you keep focused on that task? Describe what this topic means. Why do you think this task was difficult? The 3:1 formula
During a conversation a great balance is asking three closed questions and one open question. With closed questions we start the conversation and summarize the progress, whereas open questions give us the opportunity to get the other person thinking and continuing to give us useful information.
If we master the art of using the right questions, we’ll most probably manage to get our respondents to ask us open questions too, which will give us floor to talk more about what we want. How? By intriguing them with an incomplete story or benefit.
But it’s not all in the question
One of the common mistakes is to ask questions at a wrong moment, for example when our children just walk out the schoolgate or are busy doing something else, when our partners just come home from work etc..
Most of us need some time to unwind and re-order their thoughts before we are really ready to tell more about our day and engage in a conversation about it. – Some of us can do this on our way home, others need a bit more time.
No matter if we want to know how the school day was or how the meeting went, it is always advisable to create a pleasant context, either sharing a meal or while doing an activity together: cooking, doing craftworks, playing a game, going for a walk or a run etc..
Finding the right moment requires empathy and flexibility: our children will most likely be the most loquatious when we’re busy with something else, when it’s bed time or time to leave etc. It’s not always possible to pause and give our full attention. Therefore it may be a good idea to arrange fix moments during the day where everyone has the time to share and is ready to give each other his or her full attention.