Open Ended Questions

The Power of Open Ended Questions and Discussion

There’s a lot you can do to encourage creative thinking in all areas of your life. In yesterday’s post, we talked about changing the climate and culture around you, as well as, your environment. That’s one strategy to get you there. Today I have another one for you – open ended questions and free discussion.

This works well when you’re working with someone or in a team. We’ll start there, and then I’ll show you some tweaks you can use to make this work when you’re on your own. The idea is to start with some open ended questions and encourage as much discussion as possible. When you don’t limit yourself through the questions you ask, you leave room to get creative, to push past boundaries and come up with something unique and creative. It’s not red or blue, it’s what color do you think works best in here?  It’s not yes or no, it’s what do you think will work best for this situation?

How to Ask an Open Ended Question

Here’s a super simple example to illustrate. Let’s say you’re thinking of painting your bedroom. Instead of asking yourself or your spouse if you should paint it cream or yellow, keep it open ended and ask what you should do about the walls in your bedroom. Asking this way, allows you to explore a lot more options. You may consider different colors. You may consider painting one wall yellow and the rest a complimentary cream or off-white color. You could consider wallpaper or stripping it down to the brick or wood beneath all that color. Or you could decide to leave it alone and spend your time and energy on repainting the kitchen instead. Do you see how open ended questions allow you to explore all your options?  My office was going to be a super neutral grey, and now, it’s a bright purple that really fits my personality because of an open ended question!

Where do Open Ended Questions Work Best?

This type of question also works really well in team or family meetings, particularly in the early stages when you’re trying to figure out what your options are. If you want an example of creative and out-of-the-box thinking, ask your young kids what would make for a fun vacation. You’ll be amazed by their creativity. With adults, we sometimes have to suspend belief and the limits we think are in place. Encourage your team to think past the lines that they think are insurmountable because “it’s just not done”, “it’s too expensive”, “it won’t work”, and the likes.  You may not be able to do everything, but you can do anything.

Get the people around you – and yourself – used to answering open-ended questions. Encourage discussions and brainstorming. When it starts to get to the point that it sounds ridiculous (take a vacation to the moon anyone?) you know you’re in the realm of creative thinking. Try it out for yourself and get in the habit of using open ended questions as much as possible.  I love them when I ask my kids questions, especially if I already know the “correct” answer, if you know what I mean!

Can you think of an open ended question you will add to your tool bag this week?  Share it with us in the comments below!

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