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One of the skills to support active listening is to ask helpful questions. At different times you will want the individual to expand on what they are telling you whilst at others you may want them to slow down and begin to focus on something specifically. How we ask questions influences this.

Questions that help:

Questions that don’t help:

Three sets of staff members actively listening to students

A staff member actively listening to a student, making good eye contact

Open-ended questions

Asking open-ended questions helps the person to explore what’s happening and allows a range of possible replies. Questions which begin with what, when, how, where and who are useful to start with, for example:

A staff member actively listening to a student, making good eye contact

Probing questions

These questions, which are actually often posed as statements help to pay attention to specific issues that you want more information on, for example:

A staff member actively listening to a student, making good eye contact

Hypothetical questions

These questions may enable a person explore a fixed view:

So what do you imagine would happen if you said “I don’t want to do it”?

A road leading to a question mark

Leading questions

Leading questions can push a person into responding in a way that they think you want to hear, for example:

The words 'yes' and 'no'

Closed questions

Asking closed questions generally results in one or two word responses “yes” and “no” and doesn’t help a person to expand on their experience, for example:

The question ‘why?’

‘Why’ questions

Most questions beginning with ‘why” are an invitation to think about something to which there is often no single answer. Why questions don’t support an exploration of feelings. For example asking:

“Why did you do that?” is less useful than “What was happening for you when you did that?”.