Open ended questions will further conversation

Arpan Yagnik and Arpan Yagnik

With the throbbing excitement of the beginning of a new school year comes the burden and stress of excessive interpersonal communication.

Numerous events and programs are planned for the incoming freshman to welcome them and make them feel at home. Some of the challenges during the orientation and first couple weeks are information overload, orchestrated socialization, getting lost on campus, making friends, getting textbooks and more. This article is going to focus on the challenge of making friends.

Now, there is no fool-proof formula for making friends. But there are some techniques and skills that can surely provide a boost.

The friendships that are made during the orientation and first few social events of the semester are some of the most diverse friendships. The challenge here is to make them lasting ones, because once a student settles down in his/her major, the opportunities to interact with students from other disciplines and majors reduces.

In this article, I am going to emphasize the shift from small talk to meaningful conversation by focusing on altering the type of questions you ask.

Small talk is an important social skill. Small talk is what comes in handy when you are thrust into unexpected social situations. Some standard small talk questions revolve around one’s major, place of origin and the weather.

These, I believe, should be one’s last resort.

Instead, I recommend asking questions that invite the opposite individual to tell stories. To encourage an individual to tell a story, the nature of the question has to be open-ended. Researchers have broadly identified two types of question formats, namely open-ended and close-ended.

The open-ended questions are the sort that invites the opposite individual to respond freely. The close-ended questions provide fixed responses for the individual to choose from while responding. Some popular close-ended responses are Yes/No

and Good/Bad.

When you ask a question such as “How was the food?” or “How was the class?” the response almost always is one of the two above.

By asking close-ended questions, we do not give an opportunity to another individual to express himself freely. This inhibits conversation and in turn friendship. But when you ask an open-ended question such as “What was the best part of the class?” you invite a response that is elaborate and filled with feelings and emotions.

A story-like response automatically invokes follow-up questions and opens doors for discussing topics that are tangential to the original question but important for allowing the conversation to be broad. Hence, always try to rephrase the question and make it more open during the beginning of a friendship.

This will allow you to explore the similarities and develop

the relation.

The above tip is useful when you are the one asking questions, but what to do when the opposite person is asking close-ended questions? When in this situation, the technique I recommend is to skip the first and the most obvious response to the question.

Think of a secondary or tertiary response, which is humorous, unlikely and unexpected, and then use it. This will propel the conversation further with follow-up or the clarification of questions, which is when you turn the opportunity around and ask open-ended questions.

Keep in mind that open-ended questions are always better for the purposes of friendship building, and close-ended questions are better for instrumental and task oriented purposes. A minor tweak in the way you ask a question has the potential to determine how many close friends you will have at the end of these first couple of weeks.

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