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Following this question about not asking leading questions, I tried to apply the advice in my day to day life for all kind of situation (including online conversation).

However, I find that I am now asking awfully vague questions, the kind of questions you would ask if you hadn't been listening to what the other person previously said.

For example, let's assume that one of your friends participate in a festival at the weekend.

The non-leading question would be:

Hey, how was the festival?

But then, if you know that such an event could make your friend terrible tired, you would also like to inquire specifically about that. For example:

Wasn't it too tiring?

But this is a leading question, which means that your friend might feel pressure to answer in a certain way, which is less likely to happen if you ask a non-leading question (like, when someone asks "did you understand?" you feel pressure to say "yes" even though it's not the truth).

So, you could say instead:

How is your tiredness level?

But, honestly, this is the kind of question your doctor might ask and, as a friend, I would feel weird asking that (at least in the cultural context of France).

So, assuming it's possible, how can one ask non-leading questions without sounding (too) cold/detach?

Note and clarifications

  • Asking about the festival is fine, even if it can be a bit vague. And, as someone with tiredness issue, I know I mostly never talk about how something made me tired unless someone specifically asks. In those case, I'm happy that the person asks but it doesn't mean that I will not be tempted to undermine the truth (in order to "protect" the other person from the truth).

  • The example above is mostly a real example. But it was an online, asynchronous, conversation where I decided to ask "Hey, how was the festival? Not too tiring?" in a single message.

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    Why do you think asking how the festival was is cold or detached? If you friend got tired, why wouldn't they respond with that as part of the answer? – DaveG Jan 31 at 11:48
  • @DaveG Asking about the festival is fine, even if it can be a bit vague. And, as someone with tiredness issue, I know I mostly never talk about how something made me tired unless someone specifically asks. In those case, I'm happy that the person asks but it doesn't mean that I will not be tempted to undermine the truth (in order to "protect" the other person from the truth). – Ælis Jan 31 at 11:59
  • Do you have an example(s) of this situation happening to you for real? Oftentimes the response to your initial questions can help determine if the other person is likely to interpret your next questions as detached. – user8671 Jan 31 at 12:12
  • @Kozaky This is mostly a real example. But it was an online, asynchronous, conversation where I decided to ask "Hey, how was the festival? Not too tiring?" in a single message. But I also have some phone conversation (with someone else) if needed. – Ælis Jan 31 at 13:12
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    So why do you worry about how tiring it was? Instead of which was the best band, or "did you dance in the aisles" or "how long di the music last each night?" or "did you sleep well afterwards?" or any of dozens of other questions. If you are not this person's caregiver (eg someone looking after their parent or grandparent) why are your questions about an event aimed at sort of caregiving information like "Are you getting too tired" and not at friend information like "was it great? did you dance? are you glad you went? tell me all about it!" – Kate Gregory Mar 17 at 0:59
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In general, people try to not ask leading questions because they don't want to dictate the results. If you want real information, it's best not to push someone into an answer. There's nothing cold or unfeeling in a question like "how was the party". If you haven't already asked about the party, there's nothing here that would indicate that you haven't been paying attention or are unfeeling.

In particular, you should really avoid asking in a way that leads to a negative answer. For example, when your friend goes to a festival, asking "weren't you tired" or "did you get a headache" will make your friend view the experience in a negative light. Even if they had a great time, they will probably start thinking "oh yes, after the second hour I was starting to feel tired".

If you feel the need to ask a question that connects with your experience with your friend and show that you've been thinking about them, ask in a positive direction. For example, for a festival you might ask "I hear thus & such band was there, did you enjoy the music". Or "did you see our friend xyz, I think he was there too". This shows that you are connected and thoughtful, but not pushing your friend in a negative direction.

By the way, this comes from my own personal experience in dealing with a relative who usually takes the most pessimistic or negative view of events.

  • Thanks for your answer. I got a lot of new questions now and I'm curious :P I know this comes from your personal experience but do you know of any studies/articles talking about what you say in your 2nd paragraph? e.g: asking negative questions makes people see an event in a negative light? And do you know (from experience or other) if saying "I couldn't have done it, it would have been too tiring for me" also have this negative effect? – Ælis Jan 31 at 14:06
  • @Noon As I mentioned in my answer, my knowledge of the bad effects of asking negative leading questions comes from my personal experience (discussions with a close relative who is often very negative in outlook). – DaveG Jan 31 at 14:56
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    @Noon I found jems.com/articles/print/volume-35/issue-1/training/… which talks about EMTs not using leading questions that may be interesting. – DaveG Jan 31 at 15:04
  • I don't have time to read it right now, but this looks interesting, thanks! Maybe you should edit your answer to had it at the end? (like a connected article, or something like that) – Ælis Jan 31 at 15:23
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At least twice, I have recommended the Interpersonal Skill of Probing Questions, which is very similar to the Interpersonal Skill of Leading Questions.

Both are very useful skills, but only if you have a specific goal or objective in mind. Without some ulterior motive, there's no reason to use either.

Unless you want or need to know exactly how tired she became, a Leading Question is not appropriate. And if you already know she gets tired, is there anything else you'd need to know? Just think about that.

My Answer is to the question of "Asking non-leading without sounding cold and/or detached" is non-leading questions are not necessarily cold or detached. They are by far the most common type of casual question asked.

How was the festival?

Is perfectly fine. That you know she gets tired easily is mostly irrelevant. Maybe she didn't this time. And assuming you don't need to hide your motives for asking:

Did you enjoy it without getting too tired?

Gets her to talk about it with the benefit of also showing your concern for her condition.

Because the above Answer could be considered a Frame Challenge, here is a clearly non-Frame Challenge Answer:

"how can one ask non-leading questions without sounding (too) cold/detach?"

You can add some linguistic sugar to make the question sound more casual, colloquial or personal.

Wow, so cool! How was it?

or

Oh my gosh, tell me all about it!

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    Just wanted to bring you attention to this: “Because the above Answer” is not specific. Depending on the viewers settings, there could be any answer above yours, perhaps several. Or your could be at the top if it gets upvoted. Please name the answer that your referencing or don’t reference it. – Nadeshka Feb 2 at 16:46
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    @Nadeshka I believe "the above answer" means "what I have written so far of this very answer" and is acknowledging that the answer may be seen as a frame challenge, so then writing the second half that isn't a frame challenge. – Kate Gregory Mar 17 at 0:58
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I'll isolate what seems to be the main idea of your concerns:

a leading question [that] your friend might feel pressure to answer [...] which is less likely to happen if you ask a non-leading question.

Which could be translated to "how to ask a question without asking" :)

Anything that ends with a "?" is a question. And will put us back to the previous sentence.

I remember what my Dad used to say about questions:

1. don't ask a question if you already know the answer.

2. don't ask a question if you're not ready to hear the answer.

In addition to this, life has taught me that, sometimes, you shouldn't ask questions if you know/feel that they might bother/annoy people. Especially people you care about!

That's why, in your situation, I'd say that you can show your concern without pressuring. Be nice and positive (showing that you care about your friend), but without question-mark.

(By the way,) I hope that you really enjoyed yourself at the festival! :)

or anything (with your own words) that talks positively about the event without "?".

Wish I could have been at that festival you talked about...

Especially in an online conversation, as you don't face the person, it'll be easier for them to skip the topic if needed. But you still leave the door/topic open if they wish to carry on. It's what I call a "non-intrusive-click-bait" sentence. People may, or may not, answer, but it'll be their choice.


From your comment, I'll expand a little: as you never know what people will understand and will tell you honestly what they think or what you want to hear, an "oriented question" (as you call it) is exactly that: a comment that'll let them decide what they want to share/tell you. And read/pick the clue/answer, it's a good training to improve one's IPS ;)

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    It's still possible to give leading bait statements. Like, "I hope that you really enjoyed yourself at the festival!" Personally, I find it much more difficult to give non-leading bait statements than non-leading questions. A bait statement is, after all, fundamentally attempting to lead them somewhere. "How was the festival?" does not lead or bait. – Ed Grimm Mar 17 at 3:52
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A few simple things to add/emphasise.

  • Remember to also share your own opinions. A conversation where only one side is asking questions is awkward (even interviewers give you a chance to ask your own questions).

  • Use open questions where you can. That is questions that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no" only. Equally, if you’re asked a question, expand a little on your answer.

  • If you’re unsure about a sensitive subject (eg mental health or an illness) which might turn the conversation in a negative direction, stick to an objective question. So ask if the festival went on late (late means it might be tiring, but it also means it was good value for money or enjoyable enough to stay late).

  • (from the other point of view) If you find yourself being "interrogated", ask a question yourself.

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