Probing Questions

This post is part of my 100-question challenge, where I review work from researchers, coaches, and counselors to identify questions that support participants to reflect and find solutions to their problems. Learn more about this challenge here. These are questions 65-72.

As anybody who ever conducted an interview (or paid close attention to a conversation) knows, our questions or comments don’t always land the way we expect. We think we have the perfectly worded question and are surprised to find that the answer we got was not quite what we expected. In addition, sometimes participants may not have thought much about what we are asking, may not be sure about what we want to know and may give us superficial or short answers. Probing questions is an excellent way to elaborate on a response, get more information from research participants, and help participants further explore their experience and needs.

Probing questions can help get some background about a particular situation (Give me some background, how did you arrive to this situation?), explore desires or intentions (Where do you see this going? What is the best possible outcome?), explore feelings (how do you feel about this?), get more concrete information (can you give me an example of that), or understand why a piece of information is important (what makes this significant to you?). 

In the book Coaching Questions (p.38), Stoltzfus suggests several probing questions that can be used often in coaching situations. The questions below are also helpful probing questions in an interview context:

  1. What feelings do you have about this?
  2. What are the other players in this situation? How are they involved?
  3. What do you want? What is your objective?
  4. Give me a concrete example of that.
  5. What did you mean when you said X.
  6. What was most significant to you about this situation?
  7. Give me some background: what led to this situation?
  8. What excites you about this?

In a way, the magic is in the probing questions, as these are the questions that keep the conversation and direct the conversation towards deeper reflexivity and insight. It reminds me of my teachers’ comment that in a clean languageconversation, the question “And is there anything else about that?” is the most used and perhaps the most insightful.

What excites you about this?