When you ask a question and the expected answer is either yes-or-no, that’s all you’re going to get. A yes-or-no question seeks a single acceptable answer or pair of alternatives. Linguists call this a polar question. The answer is black or white, cold or hot, positive or negative.
Compare (1) Do you drink scotch? (yes-or-no) with (2) What do you drink? (scotch, gin, vodka, wine, or sparking water). (1) Will the proposal be ready tomorrow? (yes-or-no) (2) How long will it take to finish the proposal? It will take about two hours unless we have additional revisions. Both # 2 examples are open-ended questions. The answers to #1 can only be yes-or-no. They are close-ended questions. Asking only close-ended questions limits access to information with only a yes-or-no answer. Asking open-ended questions creates the potential for the exchange of complex information.
If you are asking only yes-or-no questions, you won’t be able to learn as much about someone compared to what you would garner with open-ended questions. Contrast yes-or-no questions with Wh-question words (what, where, when, why, how) which reveal what someone is actually thinking, feeling, planning, and wanting. Posing open-ended questions using Wh-questions words invites rapport and relationship building with individuals and across teams.Read more