Probing Questions: How To Get The Answers You Need

probing questionsAnxious to get to the bottom of something? Desperate for a deeper understanding? Or are you just curious and want to find out more? Whether you’re on the giving end of questioning or the receiving end, an understanding of “probing questions” is a vital resource.

Probing questions are just like they sound: they are designed to probe deeper into the subject at hand. The following guide explains everything about probing questions, from what they can accomplish to specific examples. Take your interrogative art further with this top-rated course on how to ask powerful, emotionally engaging questions.

Probing Questions et al

Yes, probing questions are not alone when it comes to classifying the different varieties of inquiries. The two other types of questions that are commonly mentioned when talking about probing questions are clarifying and recommendation questions.

Probing Questions: First and foremost, let’s discuss probing questions. The single most important attribute of probing questions is how effective the question is at helping someone think deeper about a given topic. If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is. Probing questions are not easy to brain storm, but we’ll get to that later.

Answers To Probing Questions: Probing questions do not necessarily probe for facts; they look for answers that will help them approach a problem differently, that will allow them to ponder different options, that will make a topic more interesting, etc. Answers to probing questions are not typically cut-and-dry. You would hope that someone would not answer a probing question quickly, or they might not have given it proper thought. A good probing question will challenge the person answering the question, and then it will subsequently challenge the questioner (unless the questioner is keen to acquire a certain response).

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Clarifying Questions: I will briefly explain clarifying questions and, momentarily, recommendation questions. Clarifying questions are those that simply seek straight-forward facts. They literally clarify a problem or dilemma. Answers tend to be immediate and, for the most part, expected. Examples include:

  • Q: Where were you at 8:00 P.M. on Sunday the 25th of April?  A: I was at my house.
  • Q: What do you do for a living?  A: I’m a freelance graphic designer.
  • Q: Do you work from home?  A: Yes.

Recommendation Questions: These types of questions try to lead the person who is answering into a certain answer. They are typically meant to be persuasive or to get someone to say what the questioner wants them to say. For example, any questions that starts, “Is is true that you . . .” or “Don’t you agree that you . . . ” or “Aren’t you . . . ” is a recommendation question. There is no one way to ask a recommendation question. They are simply questions that recommend an answer, as it were.

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How To Brainstorm Probing Questions

As mentioned, brainstorming probing questions is far from easy. They require not only a creative mind, but one that can figure out how to get the answers it wants without making recommendations. Here are a number of tips to help get your creative juices flowing:

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of “Why?” This is one of the best questions you can ask someone after they’ve given an answer that describes or ends with their actions. If they say, “I was working late,” then simply ask, “Why?” If they reply, “Because I didn’t get a lot of work done during the week,” then again you can simply ask, “Why?” While it may not be an ideal question for leading someone towards a piece of information you want to uncover, it may cause someone to dig up something useful unwittingly.
  2. The best probing questions are fairly open-ended. Their success does not rely on one particular response.
  3. Probing questions tend to be brief (think “Why?”) yet elicit longer responses. A question that can be answered with “Yes” or “No” is not typically a probing question.
  4. Verbs are your friends (“How do you [concentrate, behave, dream, travel, scream, etc.]?). As are questions that are somewhat risky yet not at all offensive or accusatory. You do not want to make someone feel guilty or they will alter their answer.
  5. A probing question is truly successful when it causes a big shift in thinking, especially a paradigm shift that causes the answerer to have to completely change his or her mindset.

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Examples Of Probing Questions

You will almost certainly have to design your own questions to fit the situation, but these examples will help you flesh out complete and effective probing questions:

  • Why were your expectations so high?
  • What else have you considered doing since you changed careers?
  • How did you handle moving to another company?
  • Why did having more freedom open up your mind creatively?
  • What do you think is responsible for your success?
  • Why is collaboration important? What experiences have you had that have proved otherwise?
  • How did your preconceptions affect your initial response? What have you learned since then?
  • If you could start over, what would you do differently?
  • What were you trying to achieve? Were you afraid?
  • How do you respond to people with negative attitudes? Do you thrive under pressure? How so?
  • What do you do when you aren’t working? What role do hobbies play in your life? Why is biking so important to you? Is your interest in adrenaline sports reflected in other areas of your life?
  • And, of course: Why? Why? Why?

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