What’s the Question? Reviewed by Momizat on . Ask the Right Questions to Elicit the Information Needed for the Story Those that cross-examine and have been cross-examined understand that the questions are i Ask the Right Questions to Elicit the Information Needed for the Story Those that cross-examine and have been cross-examined understand that the questions are i Rating: 0
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What’s the Question?

Ask the Right Questions to Elicit the Information Needed for the Story

Those that cross-examine and have been cross-examined understand that the questions are intended to elicit information or develop a story that fits their client’s version of events. There is a strategy and, in this article, the author shares how that is accomplished.

What's the Question? Ask the Right Questions to Elicit the Information Needed for the Story

So, what is the big deal about asking questions? You just say, “Why did you do that?” or “What is going on?” or “How is the project going?” Well, the “big deal” about questions, is to first understand the purpose. Are you trying to get the maximum amount of information, so a reasoned decision can be made? Is your purpose to cut someone off, and get him or her to stop talking? Are you looking for a particular response? Do you want to put someone on the defensive?

Knowing the basic elements of how to ask appropriate questions, which will accomplish your goals, is key. If your purpose is to maximize the amount of information you can get, then an “open-ended” question is a good way to start. Open-ended questions begin with “who”, “what”, “where”, “when” or “how”.

For example, “What factors did you take into consideration when you decided to invest in that stock?” Such an open-ended question should generate information. In some situations, you want specific information and not a generality, so asking “When the decision was made, how many members of the team were included?” or “How frequently have our clients complained about the product?” can produce a name, date, percent, or other key data.

If the person you are talking to is repeating or rambling on, and is not staying on track, then a “closed-ended” question might be useful. This type of question includes “is/are” or “did/do” and should help closedown the talker, because it requires a simple “yes” or “no” response.

Some examples are, “Let me see if I understand you—you would like A, B, and C. Did I get it right?” “Is there anyone else who needs to sign the document?” is another example of a closed-ended question. Once the person has answered “yes” or “no”, there is no further need for the person to continue to ramble on and on.

Then there are those questions that suggest a potential answer or essentially direct someone to a particular response. These are referred to as leading questions and are used to suggest the “right” or preferred answer—the answer may be implied or imbedded in the question itself. Leading questions may be proceeded by an open-ended question.

Examples of leading questions include ones like, “How soon would you like us to conduct the audit?” This question presumes that this firm is the potential client’s choice for the audit. In business, leading questions are used to increase evaluations ratings regarding services or products. For example, “Many companies prefer having a forensic specialist review such matters. What are your thoughts?” Another example might be framed as, “Using our comprehensive financial plan was beneficial, wasn’t it?”

There is one question that must be avoided, and that is a question that begins with “why”. The word will place the responder on the psychological defensive and they are far more likely to construct an answer that they think the person asking the question wants to hear. “Why did you fire Ben Thompson?” or “Why has the bottom line dropped so radically?” are examples of how a “why” question will make people construct a defense answer.

Granted, there are times when you do want to know “why” someone did something, or what caused something unexpected to happen. In those instances, just reframe the “why” question into an open-ended one. For example, reframe the “Why did you fire Ben Thompson?” question into “What factors lead you to decide to fire Ben Thompson?”

When asking questions, it is important to assess how much information is desired and how specific you want the details. If you need information to decide, open-ended questions are the “go to” choice. If you need to cut off a pleonastic[1] speaker, then the closed-ended question is the way to proceed. Of course, leading questions and those that start with “why” will limit the amount, type, and accuracy of the information provided.


[1] Pleonastic comes from the Greek “pleos”, which means full of or abundant. If you ask a pleonastic speaker what time it is, they will ultimately tell you the time after they have told you how to build a watch factory.

TES founder, Nancy Neal Yeend, has served as a mediator for over 30 years, and her mediation practice focuses on helping businesses resolve disputes from pre-litigation thru trial and even at the appellate level. In addition, she mediates ADA cases that emanate from the DOJ for the Key Bridge Foundation.

During her career, she often reflected on “What if they had done ‘X’ then could the conflict have been avoided?” The answer is a resounding “yes”! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Research demonstrates that preventing conflict has huge benefits to businesses. Controversies and conflict cause stress, and people working in stressful situations are more likely to develop significant health issues: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer.

Reducing and preventing stress has multiple benefits: productivity increases, and absenteeism is reduced, which in turn helps reduce healthcare costs. These factors significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. Our name, The End Strategy, evolved from the desire to tell people, up front, what TES does. The End Strategy says it all—TES helps put an end to business related conflict. There is also a historical footnote: the founder’s last name, Yeend, mean “the end” in old English!

Ms. Yeend can be contacted at (503) 481-2986 or by e-mail to Nancy@TESresults.com.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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