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The Gate's Open

Posted By Christine Tauzel, New York State Agricultural Mediation Program Director, Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Updated: Monday, October 16, 2017


Cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, lamas - what will an animal do when the gate’s left open?  The stories; funny, frustrating, heart- warming or sad would fill the page.  Most animals think it’s an invitation to go right on through!

What happens to a discussion or argument if the “conversation gate” is open?  Often more information comes out, feelings, beliefs or values are expressed more clearly and these become the foundation for “going through” to a better understanding and perhaps agreement.

 So if the gate is jammed and people are stuck saying the same things over and over, how can it be cleared?  Try experimenting with a simple tool known as “open ended questions”.

In a conversation, an open ended question invites the speaker to provide more information. It encourages the speaker to add details, explain why they think a certain way, describe how they see a situation, correct misunderstandings and to offer their own ideas.

In contrast, a closed question can limit an answer to one word or even just a grunt!

Can you identify the open ended and closed questions in these pairs? If someone asked you these questions, how would your answers be different?

“Who’s going to plow the field on the flat?”  OR   “What are the plans for the field on the flat?”


 “Why did you do that??!!!???”  OR   “Can you tell me what happened?”


 “Did you go to the movies with your friends last night?” OR “What did you decide to do last night?”


Are there times and places for questions with simple, direct answers?  Absolutely.  However, if you want to open the conversation gate and get “unstuck” try using open ended questions. See how far it can take you. 

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