The Artful Dodger

We all are occasionally asked questions we don’t want to answer.  When are you getting married? Have you gained weight? Is that your child screaming obscenities in the food court play yard? While sometimes we can avoid answering these questions by laughing them off, taking offense, or leaving a child to be raised by the employees at Sbarro, there are times when uncomfortable questions are asked in a professional setting, and possibly on camera. That’s when you need to use a bit more finesse.  

The questions that are hardest to dodge are the ones you aren’t expecting. By being prepared for any question you can avoid this becoming a reality. At all times know what questions could be thrown your way. Play the devil’s advocate and make a list of all the questions you don’t want to answer. That way, when they are asked there will be no surprise, or shock, and you can turn the situation to your advantage.  

Having talking points ready is another way to prepare yourself for uncomfortable questions. At all times you should have three to five talking points you can pull out of your back pocket to pivot the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Write your talking points down and practice them often, especially prior to any interview or public appearance.  

In addition to practicing your talking points, do practice interviews where you learn how to deal with difficult questions. Have someone on your team sit down with you and grill you so that you are familiar with scenarios you may encounter. Dealing with the hard questions in a controlled, private environment will make it easier to answer them in public when the time comes.  

Practicing for difficult questions not only involves planning the words you will say, but how you will say them.  Work on your body language and tone of voice to make sure you are not coming off as defensive or angry. If possible, record yourself so that you can watch your performance and make tweaks to your appearance and voice.  

When it comes to the technique of avoiding a question you don’t want to answer there are several different styles from which to choose. All of them have the same three parts  : the dodge, the pivot, and the redirect.  

The Dodge 

Just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. However, that doesn’t mean you have to say “no comment.” There are lots of ways to avoid a question without outright refusing.  

  • Answer partially Chances are there are aspects of the question you can answer without putting yourself in an awkward situation.  
  • Pass off the question I know you have seen this done before. Someone asks a question and the response starts off “that’s a very good question.” The words that follow most likely have nothing to do with the question asked.  
  • Challenge the question You can do this in several ways. Challenge the validity of the question. Challenge the timeliness of the question. Challenge the propriety of the question. You could even question the grammar. Your entire objective is to make the question seem illegitimate.  
  • Answer a different question Seven words: I think the real question is… Go from there.  

The Pivot 

The pivot actually starts in the dodge. The moment you refuse, oh so cleverly, to answer a question you are redirecting the conversation. The pivot can be as simple as saying “I think what we really should be talking about…” and continuing on. Whatever you do, do not spend too much time on the pivot. That will call attention to what you are doing and could lead to even more questions you don’t want to answer.  

The Redirect  

Remember those talking points you wrote, committed to memory, and practiced over and over? This is where they come in handy. Use them to make sure your answer stays on the topic you want to address.  

There are always going to be instances when uncomfortable questions are asked. However, with a bit or preparation, and a lot of practice you will be able to circumvent even the most uncomfortable queries. You may even get good enough to sit through an extended family dinner. No promises, but it could happen.