A leading question can be an important tool when used correctly. But, in certain situations, it can also be dangerous, both to the person asking the question and the person answering it.
Asking them can manipulate answers from people in a way that’s not fair or accurate, but it happens all the time.
On the contrary, answering a leading question requires quick thinking to understand what’s being asked and how to answer it in such a way that doesn’t make the questioner assume something that isn’t true or lead them to draw their own conclusions about your answer.
This article will explain what leading questions are, why they can be problematic, and how you can avoid them if you have to ask one.
What are leading questions?
Leading questions are questions that have been crafted in such a way as to nudge someone in the direction of your desired answer.
Yes, you may have crafted a detailed resume using a professional resume builder. But interviewers will always find ways to get to know you better. And most of the time, they unknowingly throw you leading questions.
For example, during the interview, you might find yourself with the interviewer wanting you to agree with his point of view. He might ask, Don’t you think it’s essential to learn this skill?
It seems like an innocent question, but because it has been crafted in such a way as to get people to agree with the questioner’s point of view, it can be considered a leading question.
If you’re in an interview, giving a speech, or presenting your findings, you don’t want to fall victim to the dreaded leading question. A leading question puts the interviewer, audience member, or evaluator in the position of responding to what you want them to say rather than their own opinions.
For example, if someone asks you, Do you think you’ll get that promotion? That puts pressure on you to say yes even if you aren’t sure because you don’t want to disappoint the interviewer by saying no.
Leading questions are not only used in interviews since they can also be used in sales or customer service, where the goal is to get the person to agree to something. For instance, a salesperson might say, Would you like this in red or blue? when they really want the customer to choose blue.
In order to avoid leading questions, you should keep the following in mind:
- try to ask open-ended questions;
- avoid yes/no questions;
- study the body language and tone of voice used;
- try not to ask loaded questions;
- and nod when appropriate.
5 types of leading questions
Many people are taught that leading questions are only used in court to confuse witnesses, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Leading questions aren’t intended to confuse or trick anyone — they’re simply used to guide your listener to the answer you would like them to have.
They’re useful because they help you find out what information you really need, and they help your listener provide the information you seek without feeling as though they’re being interrogated.
Now, there are different types of leading questions, and we’ve listed them here.
Assumption-based leading questions
Assuming that you already know the answer to a question can influence the way you respond. This is called an assumption-based leading question, and it’s when the question implies that something is true when it may not be.
For example, an assumption-based leading question might be, You’re not going to wear that to the party, are you? This type of question pressures the person to conform to what the asker believes is correct.
Assumption-based questions tend to make people defensive or embarrassed because they don’t want to admit that they did something incorrectly. These types of questions usually only have one answer. So, if someone doesn’t agree with the asker, there isn’t much room for discussion.
A great strategy for responding is to use this opportunity to discuss why you think differently from them!
Leading questions with interconnected statements
A leading question is a question that suggests the desired answer or leads the respondent in a particular direction. This type of question is often used in surveys and political polls to obtain a desired response.
In most cases, this type of leading question uses two related statements. It usually begins with a statement that is meant to set bias into the mindset of the respondent. Then it is followed up with a question that hopes to agree with the statement.
This leading question is common in workplaces where employers roll out surveys for a new policy and want the decision of the majority to sway in one direction. The company wants to eliminate the Work-from-Home policy. In this situation, the leading question is, “A considerable number of employees prefer going to the office to working from home. What is your stand on this?
Obviously, this statement aims to convince employees to agree with the first statement by putting what others feel in the spotlight before asking the question. Other examples are:
- A lot of employees hate wearing masks to work. What is your feeling about such a statement?
- The majority of students think that virtual learning is not effective and practical. Do you agree?
Direct implication leading questions
These types of questions imply that the asker already knows the answer to the question. They are often used to gather any piece of information that can be used against someone in a court of law.
For example, Did you commit the crime? or What were you doing at the time of the incident? These questions are direct and specific and often result in a yes or no answer.
Scale-based leading questions
Leading questions that ask respondents to rate something on a scale are often used in office surveys. They can be effective in getting people to think about their answers and can provide valuable data. However, care should be taken to avoid bias in the question-wording.
Generally, scale-based leading questions use an unfair scale that favours the researcher. Hence, the scale has more positive responses than negative ones. With more possible positive responses, the more likely that the results will lead to what the researchers aim to get.
Here is an example of a scale-based leading question:
How satisfactory was our service?
- Extremely satisfactory
- Quite Satisfactory
- A Bit Dissatisfactory
Coercive leading questions
This type of leading question forces respondents to provide a specific answer, usually in the affirmative.
For example, Do you love your job? will lead the respondent to say yes or no and not other responses. Such questions can be useful when polling a large group of people on topics, such as political parties or whether they like their favourite sports team’s new jersey.
However, these types of questions should not be used in survey research because they are coercive and influence responses negatively by biasing subjects towards one particular viewpoint.
Leading questions vs. loaded questions
At times, leading questions are confused with loaded questions. But what exactly are the differences between the two?
It’s easy to distinguish a leading question from a loaded one. Leading questions are literally meant to “lead” people to respond to questions in the way the questions are constructed. For instance, in a scenario at a fast food chain, the manager asks the customer, “our burger is the best in the city, isn’t it?” The manager here expects a positive answer from the customer. However, the customer can’t directly answer in a way that opposes the thoughts of the manager.
Loaded questions, on the other hand, are similar to leading questions. However, they are more subtle or less subtle to direct the respondent to give a particular response. At first look, these questions may sound harmless because they are used in daily conversations. An example of this question is, “Do you really like to vote for a presidential candidate who has been through a lot of controversies?”
In this scenario, the creator of the question seems to assume that:
- The person is voting for a potentially corrupt candidate.
- The person seems to prefer supporting controversial candidates.
While there are minimal differences between these two types, it is essential to remember that leading and loaded questions can confuse or mislead people. And sometimes, they may be thrown unintentionally. But either way, you can identify and avoid these questions by taking into consideration some tips.
How to avoid leading questions
Leading questions are tricky, whether you’re interviewing someone or conducting market research. They can throw you off track, cause you to give a false answer, and lead your audience to the wrong conclusion because you weren’t actually asked what they thought.
So, how can you avoid them in all kinds of research-related situations? We’ve got some straightforward tips that can help you below.
Stay on topic
When asked a leading question, it’s easy to get sidetracked and start talking about something else entirely. The best way to avoid this is to stay on topic. Keep your answers short and to the point, and resist the urge to elaborate. If you can’t stay on topic, simply say so and move on.
There’s no need to get defensive or argumentative. Just stay focused and be honest. If they ask a leading question, it might not be worth answering at all.
Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know
We’ve all been there before. We’re in a conversation, and someone asks us a question to which we don’t know the answer. We try to act like we know what we’re talking about, but our lack of knowledge is pretty obvious. Or worse, we try to guess the answer and end up saying something inaccurate.
But it’s okay not to know everything, and it’s also OK to admit when you don’t have an answer. If you do want to learn more about the topic, ask for more information or offer a suggestion for another person who might be able to help you out.
Ask clarifying questions
If you’re not sure what the person means, ask clarifying questions. These are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.
For example, you might say, Can you tell me more about what you mean by that? or Can you give me an example? Asking clarifying questions shows that you’re interested in understanding the other person, which can help prevent miscommunication.
Listen twice as much as you speak
When you’re talking to someone, it’s easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and stop listening. The next time you’re in a conversation, try to really focus on what the other person is saying. Not only will it make them feel heard, but you might learn something new.
Nod when appropriate
When someone is speaking, it’s natural to want to agree with them. After all, who wants to be seen as disagreeable?
However, when you’re trying to avoid leading questions, it’s important to keep an open mind and not let your body language give away your biases. Instead of nodding along with the speaker, try tilting your head slightly or keeping a neutral expression. This way, you’ll be more likely to catch any loaded questions that come up.
Asking leading questions is a common interview tactic, but it can also be used in casual conversation. In an interview setting, leading questions are usually asked by the interviewer in order to get the interviewee to say what they want to hear. However, leading questions can also be asked unintentionally in everyday conversation.
When someone asks a leading question on purpose, we call them a leading questioner. They do this because they don’t care about what the person’s answer will be; they just want that answer to give them what they need. These types of people tend to be manipulative and disingenuous. They often start their questions with phrases like don’t you think? or aren’t you glad? Those phrases might sound harmless, but if you know how to spot them, stay on the side of caution and do not trust anything else he says.
Then again, leading questions aren’t always bad. In fact, they can often help steer your interview or conversation in the right direction. As long as you know how to identify the different types of leading questions and when to use them effectively, then there is nothing to be worried about.
About the Author
Dahlia Keen is passionate about helping people find meaningful work in a career they enjoy. A creative writer for resumekit.com, she is backed by years of experience writing resumes for diverse industries, and she has helped hundreds of professionals land their dream job.