Many, in fact, too many, persons deliberately dodge questions. They listen and understand them, but then try to sidestep them.
And sometimes, they just challenge the inquiry:
“Did Blaine call you?”
“Why do you want to know?”
People try to duck questions, because, usually, they fear the potential consequences of the answers they would have to give. Children are particularly prone to do this to avoid accountability. And this argues that when adults dodge questions, they are being childish.
So you ask, what is the most common tactic used to fudge answers? Well, most culprits simply beg questions. That is, they give responses that really don’t answer the questions asked.
What they do is employ a fiction. They pretend that the questions are different, more to their liking. Then, they answer the imagined questions.
This scorns questioners. And in a sense this derides their intelligence. In effect, the evader says, “Hey, I think you’re dumb enough that I can slip this by you.” Thus, it’s not only a deceitful tactic, but a demeaning one as well.
But say you do have a legitimate reason for not wanting to answer. Well, be up front with the questioner. And being forthright doesn’t mean you have to be discourteous or abrasive, like some people are.
We see their kind regularly on TV, most often in press conferences. Usually, they’re celebrities, coaches, or political figures. Instead of attempting to answer questions, in an imperious, chiding tone cast with a look of contempt, they will say things like “Look, I’m not going to get into that!” “Now, you know better than to ask that.” Or they blurt out: “No comment,” or “Next question?” And sometimes they flat-out ignore particular questions just like they don’t hear them.
In contrast, explaining why you’re not answering a question, can be done courteously, in a way that offends no one. Here are some examples:
“Forgive me, Jean, but I’m just not able to say anything at this moment.”
“Gee, Bob, I’m so sorry. I wish I could give you some information, but right now my hands are tied. ”
“I do hope you understand, Pete, but I’m not able to answer that now. But perhaps, shortly I can help you with some up-to-date info. I sure hope so.”
“Vanessa, I wish I could tell you something. But I can’t. However, I certainly appreciate your concern. Thanks for asking. I’ll get back to you on this as soon as I can.”
“I hope you’ll forgive me, Diana, but I’m not in a position to comment on that now.”
“Doggone it, Brian, I wish I had authority to tell you something. I’m so sorry. Maybe the situation will change, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Denise, please forgive me, but I’m just not feeling up to talking about this now.”
As you can see, those responses still accomplish the goal of not giving any information. But they don’t offend a questioner.
What should you do if Kristin Ferrett, the executive-vice president of your company, asks you “Do you think Christine in human resources does a good job?” And you’re concerned that your answer, one way or another, might displease Kristin, a person you respect and admire so much.
So, try this: Before you answer, probe for her opinion. You could say:
“Kristin, you’re much more of an expert on human resources than am I, what do you think of Christine’s work? Your opinion is important to me.”
However, it’s usually not a good thing to respond to a question with a question, because you’re arguably begging the question, evading it. But a situation like this could be a genuine exception, providing, of course, that your relationship with Kristin would permit it.
And note that your question to Kristin, is a MakeFeelGood for her. What she thinks is important to you. So, in doing that, you not only compliment her, but you get a pulse on her thoughts about Christine.
The problem could be that in truth, you think Christine’s work in human resources is anything but good. But with luck, you and Kristin just might be on the same page about Christine; there’s a 50-50 chance of that. And if so, you can answer fully and frankly.
But say that after getting Kristin’s take, it turns out you and she are not in accord. Kristin thinks Christine walks on water. What then? How do you handle this touchy situation?
Well, what to do, depends on how serious the inquiry is, that is, what is at stake. If Christine is really harming the company, doing dishonest things or grossly underperforming, and your information is documented, you will have to tell Kristin. But if it’s nit-picking stuff that you could be all wet on, you can defer to Kristin’s opinion. Let your conscience and common sense be your guide.
In any case, by feeling out a person, before answering a touchy question, you’re not walking into a potential hornet’s nest, wherein your opinion could alienate this person.
Answer Right off the Bat!
When you respond to a question, if possible, directly answer it right away. Don’t preface your answer with comments that only tangentially relate to the question. This is annoying to someone waiting to hear your answer.
We see this often on TV. A celebrity will be asked something like:
“Did you go to Europe this year?”
“Well, let me tell you this, two years ago, I thought I wanted to go to Europe, but I never did. And last year I thought that finally I would go . . . . [blah, blah, blah]. So, this year, I went in January.”
That scenario is somewhat like the old saying: “If you ask the time, you first have to hear how the watch is made.”
Indeed, it’s really interesting to watch how often inappropriate answering occurs on TV news shows. Many times, when persons are asked questions, that could be answered “yes” or “no,” they will only discuss the matter. And from their comments, we have to infer yeses or nos.
As a result, often interviewers will have to ask, “So, your answer is, ‘Yes’?”
So, why do people do this?
Often, it’s another matter of ego. Some just want to put themselves more in the limelight, by saying more than asked. A simple “yes” or “no” doesn’t satisfy ego for more attention to themselves.
Then we have those who never seem to want to let another person know that she or he has correctly surmised something. Many have this problem. They only, begrudgingly, and hesitatingly, give credit for correct theories. This is another interrelating problem that you’ll see often on TV. And it’s sort of fun to note it.
Here’s a typical way it goes:
“Then would you agree, Sir, that this really is claustrophobia?”
“Well, to call it that, there are certain criteria that have to be met. First, it would have to be . . . second, it must show . . . and third, it has to be . . . . So, after considering those factors, it’s my opinion this is claustrophobia.”
Now, why in the blazes can’t Mr. Interviewee say right up front, “Yes, Mr. Interviewer, you’re correct, it’s claustrophobia. And here’s why I think so.”What kept him from doing that? Yes, you guessed it, his mighty ego did.
In sum, here’s the lesson: When someone asks you if so and so is correct, and it is, say so up front. Don’t make a heavy meal of saying, “Yes.” That is, simply say, “Yes, you’re right” and then elaborate, if need be.
This can be an easy way to deal a MakeFeelGood to another. In effect you’re saying, “Hey, you’re intelligent, Ms. Questioner, you made a correct judgment.”
Again, watch on TV for persons committing this interrelating boo-boo of not properly answering questions asked. And then reflect to yourself, how they should have responded.
You’ll be amazed at how often prominent people commit this breach.
Finally, summing up as to what´s most important of all on this subject, when you´re asked a question, do your best to answer it as soon as possible, and as directly as possible. If it can be answered with a simple ¨yes,¨ or ¨no,¨ say that right up front, and then offer details if necessary.
And if you can´t or don´t want to answer the question, instead of being evasive, forthrightly, say you´re not able to answer. And do this with tactful, inoffensive responses such as some of those suggested above.
Believe me, responding to questions this way, can really make an enormous difference in how people regard and respect you.
It will look like this: Answer the Question!