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5 Categories of Questions

clinical communication phone communication sales communication

There are several categories of questions from which we can draw. In our businesses and our lives, we must realize there is more than one way to ask a question. We need to know which type is most effective. Today we will elaborate on five categories of questions.

The five categories of questions are:

  • Permission
  • Clarifying
  • Discovery
  • Leading
  • Wishing

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
--W Edwards Deming


We use permission questions at the beginning of our customer interactions. A common one is: “How may I help you?”

Other times we use permission questions are when we need to place a caller on hold (“May I place you on a brief hold?”) or begin a series of questions (“May I ask you a few questions?”).

Notice the use of, “May I”. Politeness is a key component of these type of questions.


Clarifying questions are used predominantly as we exchange information. They help ensure understanding and accuracy.

A common use is when repeating back hear information and adding on, “Did I get that correct?”

Or, if we want to validate our listener captured the essence of our message we may ask, “Do you have any questions about what we discussed?”

Understanding and validation are the goals of these questions.


While we use discovery questions throughout interactions with our team and customers, they are used heavily on inquiry calls. The challenge is obtaining a proper ratio of close-ended versus open-ended questions.

Close-ended questions saturate most inquiry calls. This staccato and ping-pong effect of question-answer, question-reply is why many calls sound as if we are going down a list or tabbing through computer screens. (Oh, please tell me you aren’t taking these crucial calls on the computer!)

But by adding strategically placed open-ended questions throughout the inquiry call you create space to uncover valuable information. It also fosters the relationship by demonstrating a greater curiosity about them. Finally, it sure feels better offering information than having it extracted.

Think about it…would you rather answer the typical, “Name? DOB? Address? Phone number? Who referred you?”…or experience a greater free-flow and exchange of information with the following inserted throughout a call, “What prompted you to give us a call today?” and “Is there anything else we can do to make your first visit more comfortable?”


A well-crafted leading question helps guide the respondent to the intended reply and desired answer. This is a form of influence…or persuasion.

There are times this in not appropriate and why judges call out attorneys for “leading the witness”. But for our offices there are times we need to guide and influence our customers into the options we provide.

Using a leading question is most effective in our offices when needing to schedule customer appointments. After offering two choices, we ask, “Which one works best for you?” The use of “which one” implies a limited resource and option. Compare this to asking, “Do either one work?” as if the provided options emerged from a limitless pool of possibilities.


Wishing is a type of question, but it is heading down the slippery slope toward pleading. That is not where we want to go.

Wishing tends to end with, “Ok?” and a near sing-song lilt.

This pattern can slip into our questions and it then devalues our position. Do you know where this is so commonly heard?

You’ve got it…the playground!

Have you heard the wishing parent? “Johnny, we are going to go soon. Ok?” Can’t you see the scrunched face and hunched shoulders and hear the wishful lilt in the voice?

It is so easy to change the wish to a clarification. Try this: “Johnny, we are going to go in 5 minutes. Do you understand?”

We must do the same and even elevate it to a leading question. Instead of asking, “Mrs. Jones, when do you want to come in?” change it to, “Mrs. Jones, the doctor has [Option A or B]. Which one works best for you?”


Be intentional with your questions. Empower your teams by teaching them about these five categories of questions and provide examples. Finally, practice and provide constructive feedback on the effective selection and use of the questions.

“If you want the answer – ask the question.”
--Lorii Myers

But let’s add to the quotation…ask the right type of question.