Going beyond yes or no questions can help a survivor process the situation. They allow a survivor to identify their own feelings, choose their own next steps, and feel increased agency over their situation. For us as supporters, open ended questions allow us to clarify the survivor’s needs and what specific support they are looking for from us.
Open ended questions often start with a “W”:
“What are you thinking about doing next?”
“Who would be helpful to talk to about this?”
“When do you think you’ll be able to finish the paper?”
“Where would you like to go to continue this conversation?”
Or, they start with “how:”
“How can I help you?”
Try to avoid “why” questions:
“Why did you go to the party?”
“Why didn’t you say ‘no’?”
Questions like these sound like they are blaming and may make the survivor feel defensive or discouraged.
Sometimes, asking open ended questions can be difficult because we may be in the habit of asking closed ended questions. If you ask a closed ended question, you can save it by requesting more information (“Tell me more about that.”) Or following up with related open-ended questions like “how does that make you feel?” or “what would be helpful to do that?”
If you have questions about this or would like to practice using open-ended questions, you can contact the report and response coordinators at email@example.com.