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Open-Ended Questions

Posted by on February 11, 2013

It is normal for your mentee to give very short answers to your questions.

Most mentors have experienced a conversation with their mentee in which the mentor asks several questions and the mentee replies with very short responses, such as “Yes,” “No,” “Uh-huh,” and “Nothing.”

This can be particularly frustrating for mentors, who want to help young people open up and communicate about their lives and their feelings. It is helpful to remember that the tendency to provide very short answers is normal for all young people as they navigate the complicated feelings that are part of growing up. Young people who have experienced trauma can be even more prone to protect themselves by saying as little as possible.

Use open-ended questions to help your mentee feel safe and comfortable about telling you more.

An open-ended question requires that your mentee answer with more than just one word. It also invites your mentee to share facts, thoughts, and feelings.

  • Closed-ended question: “Did you have a good day in school?”
  • Open-ended question: “I know you enjoyed the book you just finished for English class. What did you discuss about it in class today?”

Closed-ended questions are specific and require only a brief answer. Open-ended questions invite a more detailed, thoughtful answer.
Here are some common ways to begin an open-ended question:

  • What would happen if . . .
  • I wonder . . .
  • What do you think about . . .
  • In what way . . .
  • Tell me about . . .
  • What would you do . . .
  • How can we . . .
  • How did you . . .

Learning how to ask open-ended questions takes practice. As an exercise, write down some closed-ended questions and then turn them into open-ended questions.

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