Archive for December, 2010

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

These are journalist’s questions, taken from journalist Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. As a modern journalist, I would usually add a seventh. ‘How much?’ is a question on everyone’s lips, these days.

But it’s worth contrasting these ‘closed’ questions – which elicit information – with a coach’s questions. The open questions used by coaches, followed by a safe silence, allow the coachee to open up their own thinking about a subject.

As a journalist and a coach, I use both kinds of questions in journalism but, when coaching, I use only open questions.  In fact it was a matter of some pride for me when, training as a coach, I managed an hour’s coaching session without a single ‘closed’ question.  It was liberating for the client. And also in that instance, for me.

But coaches who wish to try their hands at freelance journalism – and there are many – should be wary of using the open question too liberally. Too many open questions will keep you in the interviewee’s hair for far too long – to your mutual irritation. Remember the purpose of interviewing is to elicit information. Closed questions achieve this. When acting as a journalist, it is not in your remit to help the interviewee envisage their future!

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