One thing I’ve learned over the years is that communication style makes all the difference in engaging others. Even though someone may be very well spoken, they may not be skilled at engaging people in conversation.
Whether rounding on patients or meeting someone at a party, you’ll stand a much greater chance of getting them talking if you consciously ask open-ended questions. We teach this in our Nurse/Patient Partnership class as well as the Physician/Patient Partnership class.
When you ask a closed-ended question, you simply get data points. These can be yes or no responses or specific data. On the other hand, when you learn to ask open ended questions, you can engage your patient, family member, or teammate in a dialog and encourage them to open up. You’ll look more interested in them and, will likely get more information.
The one question that quickly shuts down conversation and limits a provider’s ability to learn more about the patient is asking, “Do you have any questions?” This is a yes or no-type question and in most cases the answer will be “No” because the person being asked doesn’t want to look stupid or appear as if he wasn’t listening. You’ll be much more engaging and stand a much greater chance at assessing patient comprehension if you pose the question as an open-ended one. Ask, “What questions can I answer for you?” This implies that questions are common and expected and you’re interested in theirs.
This works in social conversation as well. For example, asking, “Where do you work?” will get you a single, closed ended response. They’ll give a company name. But asking, “What do you do?” is more likely to get the other person talking about themselves and their job.
Start paying attention to how often you are asking closed-ended questions. Make a list of them and re-frame them as open-ended questions, and begin using these in conversation. You’ll be a much more engaging communicator.