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Questioning Traps


Techniques > Questioning > Questioning Traps

Bias | Leading questions | Interrogation | Negativity | Digression | Privacy


When questioning another person, there are many traps for the unwary questioner that can lead you into deep water. Instead of digging into their knowledge, you end up digging a hole for yourself.

Here are a few of the things you may want to avoid.


It is very easy when questioning to let your own values, preferences and biases to leak into what you are asking. This can have a number of unhelpful effects, including most of those below. If in doubt and if you can, get someone else to review your questions before you ask them of your target.

What do you think about the problems that disabled people are causing?

Leading questions

Leading questions are those that nudge, push or shove the other person towards a particular answer and away from other answers. They are a very common form of bias. Closed questions can be particularly susceptible to this trap.

Do you think that the government is having problems?

Would you say that this product is well-presented?

Note how the answer is embedded into these question (e.g. 'the government is having problems'). Note also how the questions are fairly general and easy to say 'yes' to.

Do you think that the government is the absolute best that has ever been?

Would you say that this product will make every surface in your home perfectly clean?

Now it is easy to fall the other way, as you are leading them into saying 'no'. By asking an absolute question, you give them lots of space in which 'no' is a correct answer. Saying 'yes' commits them to an extreme position -- and few people like to be put into a corner.


Interested questioning can easily turn into the 'Spanish Inquisition', and unless you have got the other person tied to the chair, they can easily get up and leave, at least psychologically. They might also fight back.

Are you ready for this? Why not? What have you been doing all week?

Listen to both yourself and their answers. If you are talking quickly or their answers are getting shorter, back off for a while or otherwise slow down the proceedings.


Sometimes, negativity in questions turns the other person off. Even accidental use of negative words can lead them to feel negative and consequently unwilling to answer further questions.

What problems have you had recently?

For example, if the word 'problem' could tip the other person into thinking negatively, you might use words such as: difficulty, challenge, complaint, obstacle, hassle, etc. or otherwise phrase the question to help the person answer honestly.

What keeps you awake at night?


There are many places where you can go in conversation that lead off the area of your main interest. It may be of interest to you and it may be of interest to the other person, but other than a little happiness, it can lose you time, information and commitment.


Another quagmire where you can sink without trace is if you get into an area which the other person feels is private and where you are not really welcome.

Look for signs of discomfort and decide whether you really need to stay in this difficult territory (if you are a therapist, this may be a good thing!).


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