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How to Ask Probing Questions Using the Funnel Technique

Read Time: 11 mins

No matter how big your company is, there are various situations and scenarios you've got to be ready for. From tricky customer queries to tensions among employees and employee interviews, you need to be equipped to handle them. 

Two people having a discussion, appears to be a job interviewTwo people having a discussion, appears to be a job interviewTwo people having a discussion, appears to be a job interview
Effective communication is sometimes all about asking the right questions. (Image source: Envato Elements)

An effective way to handle those situations is the funnel technique. This technique can help you gain more insights into a particular situation. At the same time, it makes the other person feel more comfortable. 

But what exactly is the funnel technique? We’ll answer that question and more in this article. Discover how to ask questions using the funnel questioning technique.

What's the Funnel Technique?

The funnel technique refers to asking the right questions to get a deeper understanding of a situation. In other words, it’s an effective communication technique that can be used in a variety of situations. 

At the core of every communication is asking questions. But if you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer. The right question can not only help you understand the situation better, but it can also help you improve your communication skills. As a result, you’ll be better at dealing with conflict, managing people, and empowering others to follow suit. 

So how does the funnel technique work? It’s simple, really. You start by asking an open-ended question.

An open-ended question requires a long answer. It’s not an answer that can be answered with a simple yes or no. 
Three people having a work meeting. All are smilingThree people having a work meeting. All are smilingThree people having a work meeting. All are smiling
Getting better answers from your team means asking in-depth questions. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The basic idea is to open a dialogue to get more information. You can't do that effectively with a yes or no response.  

Based on the response you get, you ask the next question which can be probing or close-ended.

A probing question goes deeper. It allows you to focus on crucial pieces of information. 
A close-ended question is used after you've received enough information about the situation in question. They help you gain control over the conversation and serve as a way to confirm all the information conveyed so far. 

Once you’re done asking questions, you can move forward to find the solution for the particular situation. 

Benefits of Using the Funnel Technique

A woman wearing a headset having a lively conversation on her computer.A woman wearing a headset having a lively conversation on her computer.A woman wearing a headset having a lively conversation on her computer.
Making others feel more comfortable is one benefit of the funnel technique. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Now that we’ve covered what the funnel technique is, let’s go over five benefits of using this method:

1. Get More Details About a Situation

As mentioned earlier, the primary benefit of using the funnel technique is to gain more details about a particular situation.

By asking open-ended and probing questions, you can get very detailed answers. What’s more, if you use the previous question to form your probing question, you can focus the conversation on what’s most important. 

2. Make the Other Person Feel More Comfortable

Successful communication depends on both parties feeling comfortable. When the person you’re having a conversation with is comfortable, they’ll be more open to sharing information with you.

The funnel technique allows you to start with easy questions and slowly progress into questions that require more details. 

3. Calm a High-Tension Situation

An employee conflict isn't uncommon. So are dissatisfied customers. Both of these situations have the potential for tensions to run high. But you can successfully diffuse the situation by asking open-ended questions. This makes the other person feel more at ease because you’re inviting them to share their experience. 

You can then get more details about it by adding more probing questions and confirming the information you’ve received with close-ended questions. Follow it up by presenting a solution and showing them that you can solve their problems.

4. Generate Better Ideas

Imagine you've got to come up with a new marketing campaign for your latest product. You can start the meeting by asking an open-ended question and then use probing questions to flesh out the initial ideas. 

You’ll also need to choose the best idea out of the bunch to have a plan for moving forward. You can use close-ended questions to evaluate each idea against your marketing goals. 

5. Develop Your Communication Skills

The funnel technique also allows you to develop your communication skills in all areas of your business. It allows you to ask better questions and learn how to probe further without coming off as aggressive.

Funnel Question Examples

People raising their hands to answer questions in a group meetingPeople raising their hands to answer questions in a group meetingPeople raising their hands to answer questions in a group meeting
Ask things like "What was your role?" and "What are your career goals?" (Image source: Envato Elements)

Are you beginning to understand the various questioning techniques? Let’s take a look at a few practical examples of different funnel questions

Keep in mind that the questions depend on the situation you’re dealing with.

Hiring Interview Examples

For example, if you’re conducting a hiring interview, you can ask questions such as: 

  • Tell me about your previous job? 
  • What was your role? 
  • Can you share your favorite project from that job?
  • Were there any challenges you encountered?
  • How did you solve them?

In this situation, a few examples of probing questions could include: 

  • What other responsibilities would you be willing to take on?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your career goals?

You can then wrap up the interview with close-ended questions such as: 

  • Do you agree?
  • Would you be willing to…?
  • Have you considered…?

Customer Service Examples

If you’re dealing with an upset customer, you could ask funnel questions such as:

  • What do you need help with? 
  • What type of problem are you dealing with?
  • What have you tried to fix the problem?

Based on these responses, you could follow up with probing questions such as: 

  • When did this problem start?
  • When does the problem occur?
  • Could you give me an example of…?

Lastly, wrap up the call or conversation with close-ended questions that confirm the shared information: 

  • Have you already tried to…?
  • Can you try to… or would you like me to walk you through….?

Regardless of the type of situation that you’re dealing with, it’s important to also use empathy statements. This shows the other person that you’re genuinely interested in helping them and making them feel more at ease. It also minimizes being overwhelmed by a barrage of questions. 

7 Tips to Help You Ask More Effective Funnel Questions

Someone raising their hand in a group setting and being called on by a speaker in front of a whiteboard.Someone raising their hand in a group setting and being called on by a speaker in front of a whiteboard.Someone raising their hand in a group setting and being called on by a speaker in front of a whiteboard.
Open-ended questions and result in deeper answers. (Image source: Envato Elements)

So far, we’ve explained what the funnel technique is and shared examples of funnel questions. But there's more to learning how to ask questions than that. Here are five tips that'll help you ask more effective questions in all kinds of situations in your workplace:

1. Open the Conversation With Open-Ended Questions

As mentioned earlier, the goal of the funnel technique is to help you get a better understanding of the situation at hand. That’s hard to do by asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. 

Open-ended questions encourage the person to share more details. For example, asking an employee what's caused them to miss a deadline is more likely to get a detailed response addressing different factors. 

You can then address each of those factors by asking more specific questions. If they replied that they had to take on projects because another coworker was sick, you can start to probe deeper into how they prioritize projects and their time management techniques. 

2. Always Ask for Clarification

Always ask for a clarification of the situation. It’s a good idea to repeat the statement back to them and tell them you want to make sure you’re understanding correctly. 

You can also use other questioning techniques such as the 5 Whys or another open-ended question that'll give you even more details. 

Asking these questions can help you shape your probing questions even better and you’ll walk away with a thorough understanding of the situation. 

3. Ask for Specific Details

Once you’ve gotten all the open-ended questions out of the way, start to narrow the funnel. You can do this by asking the other person to provide specific examples. This allows them to back their side of the story and it also helps you identify the problem at hand. 

Asking for details about when the event took place, who was involved, the steps the person took before the issue happened are all good ways to troubleshoot and diagnose the problem. Armed with this knowledge, you can begin to work towards a solution.

4. Flip the Script

While starting the conversation with an open-ended question is a good way to put the person at ease and allow them to get all the details to you, sometimes it’s a good idea to flip the script. 

In other words, start narrow and go broader. This is useful if you’re dealing with any sort of situation where the solution needs to be found as soon as possible. For example, a conflict in your workplace needs a timely solution. Aim to get the most relevant information first: who was involved, when did the incident take place, and what exactly happened. 

You can then talk to each person separately and get their point of view by asking open-ended questions. 

5. Pay Close Attention

Needless to say, you need to be an attentive listener when speaking to your employees and coworkers. But this is even more important when using the funnel technique. This allows you to come up with relevant questions and anticipate when you need to narrow the funnel further or expand it more to ensure you’re getting all the necessary information. 

It’s also a good idea to focus on one area first when dealing with a multifaceted answer. Get all the details about that area first then circle back to the next one and repeat the process. 

This tutorial can help you learn to become an active listener:

6. Mind Your Body Language and Spoken Language

Your body language can say a lot about you. When using the funnel technique, the goal is to make the other person feel at ease. That means your body language should be relaxed and encourage sharing. Avoid crossing your arms or legs and avoid fidgeting with items on your desk.

Here's a tutorial to help you learn more about body language:

When it comes to spoken language, use words and phrases that show empathy and understanding. Affirm what they’ve said to you and encourage them to tell you more. You can also use adverbs such as “specifically” or “exactly” when you want to get more detailed information from the other person. 

7. Don’t Rush the Process

Our last tip isn't to rush the process.

Remember, you want to get detailed information so it’s important to take things slow. Rushing can make the other person feel uncomfortable. They might want to end the conversation as soon as possible to get out of the unpleasant situation.

If needed, take notes on each topic so you can refer to the information later on.

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In other words, Envato Elements has everything you need to manage and promote your business effectively. And there are even more individual purchase options available on GraphicRiver, if you don't want to opt-in for a subscription. 

Use the Funnel Technique to Gain Better Insights

You've just learned how to ask questions using the funnel questioning technique.

The funnel technique is useful in several situations in your workplace. For one, it can help you get better insights into team dynamics and potential collaboration issues. Secondly, it can help you understand your customers better. Lastly, it can help you come up with better ideas during company brainstorm meetings or even evaluate potential employees better. 

The only thing left to do now is to use and apply the tips shared in this article the next time a tricky situation crops up. 

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