Open ended QuestionsOpen-ended Questions

Most of us can recall a time in our middle school, high school, or college lives when we studied long hours, days, weeks or even months for an important exam. The day of the test arrives and you are overcome with mixed emotions surrounding your readiness for the exam and potential success (or failure) following its completion.  When the test arrives in front of you, like most tests and standardized exams, it is filled with a series of questions, most of which are multiple-choice. As you proceed through the test, you come across a question that stumps you. The good thing is, on a 4-choice multiple-choice question, you have a 25% chance of guessing the correct answer. Bonus! You select the best guess and move on, without much thought or problem solving necessary.


Multiple-choice questions are considered closed-ended questions. These questions elicit a limited response, to one choice or ‘yes / no’ selection. An example of a closed-ended question would be - Do you think that your health is important? Close-ended questions limit someone’s answers and can bias people into giving the desired response. Answers provided on the multiple-choice question can reveal hints or suggestions to the correct answer. In conversation, close-ended questions quickly ‘slam the door’ for future conversation.


In contrast, there are huge advantages to asking open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow people to “tell their story” in their own words, rather than leading them in a specific direction with answer choices. Orriant has built our model of health coaching along with our health promotion platform on the use and emphasis of open-ended questions.


In health coaching, we use the OARS method in motivational interviewing. The ‘O” in OARS stands for “open questions.” When Orriant Health Coaches use open questions with their participants, it allows participants to share their individual motivations, feelings, and possible concerns. Rather than asking a participant, “Do you think your health is important?” a coach may open the question up by asking “tell me why your health is important?” This question indirectly asks the participant to explain things to us, revealing mental models, problem solving, hopes, or fears. One of the greatest expectations of our participants is that their Orriant Health Coach will listen to them. Asking open questions emphasizes the coach’s eagerness and willingness to listen. Our coaches and the engaging open questions they ask, ‘open the door’ for conversation. 


In the Orriant health promotion platform, our participants can complete any number and variety of wellness activities. Each of the online wellness activities is supported by a brief survey showing completion of the activity. Rather than asking participants to choose the best multiple-choice answer testing their comprehension of the activity, Orriant aims to elicit emotion and intrinsic motivation for completing the activity by asking open-ended questions. These questions commonly ask participants why they completed the activity, what benefits or barriers they encountered, and how they will plan to move forward. Whether it be through Orriant’s relationship-building conversations, or our online health engagement strategies, Orriant asks our participants to “tell their story” while we listen attentively for triggers to assist with behavioral change.