Not all questions serve the same basic purpose, and choosing the right type of question can trigger quite different types of responses, thinking, and actions. Here are five different categories of questions you can ask, both your friends and family, your clients, colleagues and partners, or your students and even in E-learning courses:

1. Clarifying Questions

This type of questions are for yourself, asked to better understand the topic or issue the other person is having, finding out what the different factors involved are. These questions are simple, neutral, and topic-focused. Too often, we don’t ask enough of these questions, instead jumping quickly to trying to give advice, without really understanding the conflict or issues, but assuming that our own experiences will help. Instead, we need to take the time to first make sure we understand the conflict or problem, so we can help the other person find a way forward. “What” and “How” questions are common here. Another format is “Can/Could You” and “Do/Did You“-type of questions.

Note: The remaining four categories are for the person you are talking to, to help him or her understand and inspire.

2. Exploratory Questions

These questions help the other person expand their view of the topic or issue, aiming to define the various aspects, at a base level. Subjects explored can e.g. be: their own and others’ positions, beliefs, desires and needs. Another aim is to see how the different factors connect and relate to the issues. “Why” questions are common here.

3. Deepening & Perspective Shifting Questions

This category of questions go even deeper, exploring causes, consequences and possible solutions and means available to them. One or more radically different perspectives can also be proposed, to trigger deeper thought processes.

4. Elevating Questions

This type of questions raises the discussion to a higher perspective, putting things in a context of a bigger picture. Do the various issues have common causes? Do they have wider consequences? Objective overviews are the aim here, sought by taking a “step back“.

5. Challenging Questions

This category challenges the perceptions and perspectives of the other person, and aims to provide insight and inspiration, as well as to trigger inspiration to take action and drive a change. Confrontational questions belong here, as do questioning of motivations and practices.

Through the use of these five categories, and when used purposefully, you can help your talking partner figure out both why they are having a problem or conflict, and a way forward, even when you yourself have limited knowledge of the specific topic, by using the talking partner’s own knowledge and experience, in a consciously guided process.

Likewise, in an E-learning, or regular learning, context, these five categories can help trigger deeper thinking and actions, and when combined with branching, better help guide a student to the right branch and content fitting their own needs.