Episode 59: How To Effectively Respond To A Question You Don’t Want To Answer

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We’ve all been there. You get asked a question that you feel is too personal or irrelevant and you don’t want to answer. Maybe you’re even triggered. How can you successfully respond? I got suggestions for your mind and your mouth. In this episode, I’ll teach you: 

  1. To understand your body’s freeze response
  2. How process the triggered feeling in your body
  3. How to find the pause so you can get back to thinking strategically 
  4. 10 tips on how to satisfy the question without dodging it

For years, psychologists and other academics have argued that the best way to change a person’s mind is not to attack their position but, rather, to find common ground.

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Read the Transcript
Hey friends, welcome back to this week’s podcast.  Today I am going to be talking about how to effectively respond to a question that you don’t want to answer. It happens to all of us at some point.

Recently I found myself at an industry event and a woman I met moments before saddled up to me and began pelting me with rapid-fire questions about my business and my marriage. I couldn’t even answer the first question before she went to the next question. She even made an assumption and a follow-up insult about my husband.  Who wasn’t there and she also didn’t know him? 

Woa. I thought, this woman has some serious judgment and issues going on. I was hoping she was over-served. 

And Just so you know, if you’d like to know what it will feel like to have Warrior Jill in front of you, come after someone I love. 

Her line of questioning started with “Why did or how come you…which leaves very little room for dialogue and often results in a yes/no answer.  We did not know each other. We did not have a rapport. This whole exchange was maybe 5 minutes and I was watching and feeling myself get triggered. I’ve been a coach for over 13 years. When I find myself getting triggered it’s juicy. 

I was noticing the sensation in my body and the rage in my chest start to build up. I just smiled at her and allowed my body to process the emotion. 

I realized my body was in the Freeze response. Fight, flight, freeze. Fawn. 

While the survival strategies fight and flight are more well-known, the freeze response is when the person can’t flee or they don’t know what to do, then they may go into a state of frozenness. This is where I realized I was. My training has taught me when the freeze sets in, to breathe. I focus on the sensation of the breath filling my lungs or the tickle of breath on my nostrils. 

I then glance around the room looking for a predetermined color. It doesn’t matter the color. I look for blue. But you can pick a color that is soothing to you and common enough. I mean I love chartreuse but I don’t know that I am going to find that in a restaurant. The point here is that we are giving our bodies and our minds a  beat to process what we are experiencing. We want to allow the sensation which usually dissipates after 90 seconds and then our thinking brain, our pre-frontal cortex, can come back online so to speak and you can decide what to do next. 

After reviewing what I experienced I realized that this freeze response is something I experienced at times during the workday…a passing comment from a colleague, a stressed client who was directing their anger at my team and me, a tough question on a job interview. Over the years I learned how I wanted to successfully and effectively get through it and that’s what I want to share with you today. 

After you process the emotions here are a few tactics you can use. I’m guessing you are going to want one or more of them helpful.

Get clear on the question. Clarify and asking them to repeat it.  

Don’t repeat the negative tone in your answer. Meaning if on an interview you are asked “why weren’t you working during these gaps?” don’t answer with “the reason I wasn’t working during that 18-month gap….instead say “I am glad you ask. During that time I had a desire to learn more about strategic investing so I spent the time taking courses (try to align it with the roles and responsibilities of the job you are seeking) or “I’m glad you asked. That time was such a gift to me and my family. I was able to stay with my children full time which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Now that they are older, I am excited about what’s next.  

And as a continuation to the prepare a response – I am so glad you asked that and practice your response with the appropriate tone and body language of the energy you want to convey
Find the strategic pause. If the question triggers you or you need time to think. Find the pause. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk are both masters of this and there are plenty of press interviews where the pause maybe 10 seconds. While hearing this may be cringy and make you feel uncomfortable they are managing their minds and emotions.  They stop before taking action and before saying something they may regret. The pause gives you time to think and come back with a response
Answer the question with a question. Will you tell me about your underlying concerns behind the question so I can provide a response?”
Take the focus off you and put it on them. You could say “it’s interesting that you think that” or “why is this question interesting to you?”
Answer part of the question. You could say “I appreciate your feedback. Let’s focus on the first half of the question.” Answering part of the question may be enough to assuage them
Delay the response you could say that’s a really important questions and I make sure I give you a complete response. Let me check and get back to you on friday? 
Pivot on the question. If the question is something that starts with a how come or why did you…You could say what I really think you are getting at is why was this the approach we took…” or I understand you are frustrated, would it be helpful to provide additional information for you?
Find a way to alignment/agreement on a small area. For years, psychologists and other academics have argued that the best way to change a person’s mind is not to attack their position but, rather, to find common ground. Is it possible after you take the pause to say, you know Greg, I agree with you, this project is behind schedule. We are working on securing more resources. And I want to let you know there are a lot of hard working people on the team 

Before I go, who’s helping you build a successful career? Do you have a  strategy? 
I’d be honored to help you. Check out the details in the show notes where you can schedule an appointment to see if my private or group coaching is right for you. 
Alright my friends. I appreciate you. Thanks for joining me this week. Until next time.

Visit JillGriffinCoaching.com for free content and strategies to refresh your career.