Elaine Jones

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The skill of questioning


Following a Situated Communication workshop, I have been given an independent task to read a chapter from ‘Finding out about others: the skill of questioning’ (Hargie, 2011).

Chapter 5 of this book discusses the various types of questions which can be used to shape or influence the given answer.  The function of certain questioning techniques is highlighted, with examples of ‘affective’ and ‘leading’ questions being suggested as techniques which can manipulate answers, with the effects on individuals by varying questioning techniques also explained.   

There were several theories mentioned within the chapter, and I found these to be very thought provoking, particularly the ‘minimisation’ theory.  This strategy is found to be used within courtrooms to lead subjects into believing that they may be treated more leniently when questions are put to them in a more understanding manner. I also was intrigued by the ‘acquiescence’ effect of individuals anticipating an answer to a question without fully understanding the question being asked.  Psychology appears throughout the chapter, and is found in the example of ‘subtle leads’ which highlights how answers can be influenced by the use of particular words.  Harris (1973) provided evidence of ‘subtle leads’ when asking the question “how long was the movie?”.  Answers  of 130 minutes were given, compared to those who answered 100 minutes when asked “how short was the movie?”.  

Although I agree with most of what is written in the chapter, I do not agree with the use of ‘leading questions’ when questioning children, as seen in the Orkney satanic abuse inquiry. It has been demonstrated through research by Hardie and van Leeuwen (2004), that children aged between three and five and a half years of age were more susceptible to be led by this style of questioning, although this particular inquiry contravenes this research as the child in the excerpt could not be influenced.


Hargie, O. (2011) Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice. 5th ed. London: Routledge.


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