Imagine you’re an interviewer or a detective or even a doctor- maybe scratch out the last one- and you need answers. What are your questions? You’re hiring for an exceptionally trained or full of potential candidates. You’re solving a case that’s going nowhere. You have a patient that’s adamant to not tell the whole truth- sorry, we already scratched that. You need answers; answers that will get you closer to your absolute goal- the best employee or the absolute truth. That’s when you start probing. And the act of inquiring tactfully in conversations is what we call ‘probing questions’.
Probing questions are when you want more from the respondent than just plain yes or no answers. You need them to put themselves in the question scene and answer, you want them to think deeper, dig deeper and unearth answers they didn’t know was in their conscious or subconscious mind. Probing questions is a skill and maneuvring this skill is an art. But before that, let’s get the basics right. Questioning techniques differ from situation to situation, but if we had to narrow it down to types, then one can put it in brackets of five.
5 Types of Probing Questions
Here are the five groups of probing question techniques for you to use in your next interaction.
Understanding questioning techniques not just helps you as the one who’s asking the questions but also as a respondent to know where the conversation is heading and how you can manage it better.
1. Closed and open questions
Closed and open questions are when you want a straightforward Yes/No or answer to multiple-choice questions, and an elaboration on the answer respectively.
Closed questions are your simple yes/no needing answers. They can alternatively be one-word answers like, what’s your preferred beverage, favorite ice-cream flavor, etc. Open questions, on the other hand, need a little more than just one word. When you ask an opinion about a colleague- you want to know more than just good/bad. With closed and open questions, one can combine them and use it, for example, as ice-breaker questions or for small talk!
2. Leading and funnel questions
Leading and funnel questions both want to orchestrate your answers through a series of well-arranged questions. The only difference is that leading questions have a manipulative approach, while funnel questions have a suggestive- from easy to difficult or vice versa- approach of inquiry.
Now, going beyond small talk, leading and funnel questions are all about getting into the details of a subject matter. Funnel questions are when you slowly build a conversation like what’s your name, what have you studied, how long have you been working, what has your experience till date been like, what is it that you feel you’re still lacking in your profession, how do you think you’ll add value to our company. The tonality matters in funnel questions because it’s more about making the other person comfortable to think and answer rather than bombarding and making him/her nervous. Leading questions, on the other hand, also has an arrangement of questions but it intends to influence the respondent to a specific answer that’s favored by the questioner.
Funnel questions suggest while leading questions manipulate.
3. Loaded and rhetorical questions
Loaded and rhetorical questions are asked when the questioner already assumes what the answer is and wants more of a declaration rather than an opinion.
Loaded questions are asked when a questioner wants to influence his/her views about the answer on to the respondent. Instead of asking, ‘which perfume do you like’, you’ll rather be asking, ‘XYZ perfume is great, right?’ and psychologically speaking, we tend to answer more ‘Yes’ to such questions rather than a ‘No’. This type of questioning is quite common with journalists or lawyers who expect a certain answer rather than a true opinion. Rhetorical questions on similar lines are when you are not actually asking a question but stating an opinion in a question format. A common example of this is asking ‘the weather is amazing, right?’ rather than ‘how is the weather outside?’- it’s all about the packaging.
4. Recall and process questions
Recall and process questions are asked when you want a respondent to remember a fact or want his/her opinion about the matter in hand.
Recall questions are put forward in a manner that presents the questioner as naive or sometimes even dim-witted. It’s ideally like a fact-checking session done more nicely. Whereas process questions are asked when one wants the respondent’s opinion about the case. For example, from asking a person ‘is today children’s day?’ to ‘why do we celebrate children’s day today?’- your intention changes from recall to process questions.
5. Probing questions
Probing questions are asking more than facts; it’s obtaining opinion and reasoning for the same.
Lastly, we have probing questions. Probing questions stand apart from the rest because it’s not interrogating as loaded /leading/funnel/ process questions and not factual or needing confirmation like open/closed/ recall questions. It is one where the questioner wants the respondent to think beyond facts, reasons, and influences. It wants the respondent to understand the subject, form a logical or emotional opinion and reason it out.
Probing questions usually are difficult to answer. While probing, remember to never suggest or influence or dominate the other person. Probing questions are an elaborate form of interaction that’s mostly intended to get the respondent out of his/her shell and enable them to talk freely.
If you want to just clarify or make small talk, use anything except probing questions. But if you want to get into deeper conversations with someone, try asking thoughtfully constructed probing questions. On a side note, understand that your tone, context, and body language play a huge part in any interaction, be it just a simple greeting or a long discussion.
Arpita writes to earn, as a Copywriter in Advertising; writes to express, in different forms of poetry; writes to voice opinions, with articles on different subjects; and writes to breathe and live in general. Words, as she puts it are the best version of her; and cakes, chocolates, coffee, chai, and cafes are her ideas of respite. As she always says, she is just somebody who’s trying to make herself a writer and for now, she’s just writing...