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Responding to Questions


Techniques > Questioning > Responding to Questions

Pause for thought | Answer with a surprise | Answer with a question | Ignore the question | See also


Questioning can be a method of control in a conversation, and when many people are asked questions, they respond without thinking of the opportunity this gives them to steer the conversation in the direction they want. Here are a few ways

Pause for thought

Rather than try to answer the question straight away, pause for a moment.

Don't be hurried. Hurrying is a technique used to try and stop you thinking. If the other person is talking fast, it may be because they are a visual thinker and it may be because they are trying to hurry you up.

Pausing for thought can help your credibility too. It seems as if you are taking the other person seriously as you carefully consider their question. This is considered to be normal and polite in some countries (e.g. Japan).

Answer with a surprise

Rather than give the answer they expect, change tack with something outside of the normal range of answers.

Be candid

Tell the truth when it might not be expected. Break with custom. When you are asked 'How are you', tell them. If your answer might be disagreed with, be disarmingly honest. Say things that are supposedly damaging to your own credibility.

Shower them with detail

Give them more information than they expected. If you shower them with lots of detail, it will cause cognitive overload (especially if you use technical detail and jargon). Talking a lot also has a filibustering effect, where you prevent them from saying anything else and use up the time available for the conversation.

Answer with a question

Answering a question with a question is a great way of avoiding answering, at least for the moment. It gives you time to think. Done well, it will result in them trying to answer your question and maybe forgetting the question they were asking in the first place (it is at the very least a good test of how interested and determined they are).

Ask for more detail

Dig further into the topic. Ask them to explain more. Be Socratic in seeking to get them to answer the question, leading them to the answer with your questions.

Question the question

Challenge the question being asked. Ask whether it is the right question to ask. Suggest there are other questions first (a classic is to chunk up with such as, 'Shouldn't we be talking about why were are here first?').

Question the questioner

Challenge the right of the person to ask the question. Question their legitimacy as a person to ask questions ('Who gave you the right to ask that?').

Ask a completely different question

You can also ask a completely different question. This will usually throw the other person off their tracks, particularly if you persist with further questions on the same track.

Ignore the question

A method used by many politicians is simply to ignore the question and say what you have to say anyway. A typical sharp steer is 'That's a very good question, but what I really want to say is...'.

Ignoring people and their questions is a breech of social rules and hence is a power move. If you can get away with ignoring the question or the questioner, you will have acquired power that lets you repeat this action.

See also


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