Here are some of the contrasting ways you can structure the questions you ask, and the differences between them:
1. Shotgun or rifle
Shotgun questions are unintrusive, vague and ask for general information. They are easy to create and allow the receiver wide latitude in answering. Unfortunately, their ambiguity allows for a wide variety of responses which often miss the mark.
The opposite, the rifle question, solicits response in a particular area. These questions are focused, specific, purposeful and customized. They require thought and connection.
2. Open or closed
Open questions are general probes allowing for explanation and amplification. They permit a wide variety of subjective responses. Closed questions are limited and call for a specific answer
Open questions encourage discussion and in depth comments. Closed ones solicit particular pieces of information and do not invite dialogue.
3. Fact versus opinion
Factual questions ask for objective answers. They gain concrete information for further analysis. Opinion questions look for analysis and judgment. They invite speculation and initiate open discussion.
Factual questions have right and wrong answers. By their nature, opinion questions are abstract and have no predefined solution. Factual questions tend to be closed and specific while opinion questions are open, allow revision and encourage possibilities.
4. Primary versus secondary
A primary inquiry is asked of someone who has direct knowledge and can generate a specific answer. They are more personal and have higher impact. Secondary questions request an opinion from a related party. Primary questions are direct and committing. Secondary questions call for judgments and are far safer for the respondent.
5. Direct versus indirect
Direct questions are specific, focused on the issue, and asked of the person assumed to have the answer. Indirect techniques ask related but somewhat circuitous questions in an attempt to gather information through implication, extrapolation and innuendo.
Direct questions may be offensive, intrusive and inappropriate. In these cases, when the information is important, an alternative route is generally the preferred route.
6. Hypotheticals (what-if's)
By asking an hypothetical question, the information sought is an estimation of the future given certain possibilities. It is less intrusive because of its abstract, indefinite nature. By requesting a projection, insight can be gained as to thoughts, feelings and action plans. This type of questioning explores potentials and possibilities rather than factual, objective data.
A tie-down attempts to confirm information and move a discussion forward. It looks for basic agreement to an understanding or feeling.
By using this format, agreement is readily established. People tend to begin saying 'yes' and moving towards some type of resolution.
If too many tie-downs are used without spacing, people tend to feel abused and manipulated. They should never be used more than three times in a row. The basic format of a tie-down is a statement followed by a question.
A test is when a piece of information is directly brought into question. Similar to a hypothetical, this format tends to focus more on the past and present. It seeks confirmation and verification of things thought to be true.
By using a test question, agreement becomes explicit rather than implied. It defines the situation and understanding specifically rather than leaving ambiguity.
Open ended questions that encourage discussion and exploration are probes. These tend to be 'why' queries and invite conjecture and discussion. Probes elicit deeper thought and feelings. They engage people more fully and involve them in the conversation. A good probe genuinely focuses on the answerer.
Probes serve to link the respondent and the questioner much more fully. They establish interest and interpersonal connection.
Leading questions direct people towards specific answers. These are usually done to explore thoughts or get the answerer to realize something. Sometimes rhetorical, the leading question is generated when the sender knows the answer, asks a question, and wants the answerer to articulate and/or think of the appropriate, anticipated response.
If the questioner uses too many leading questions, the respondent will tend to feel disrespected, manipulated and pressured. When used carefully, leading questions focus the conversation. They are most effective when offered as gentle inquiries that elicit the answerer's thought and personal involvement.
With any questioning structure, the two- way dialogue is promoted with the emphasis being on connecting rather than separating.