How to answer poor questions

Questions that seem like conversation but offer no real dialogue are a bummer to any relationship.

Did you go broke shopping at the mall?

Where are you really from?

Didn’t you eat the sushi?

I couldn’t make up these questions even if I wanted to. Now, it’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with them. There isn’t. What I’ve noticed is that the conversation doesn’t really launch into any sort of anything but a back and forth tennis match of poor questions. And it can stop by how you answer them. And the best news, you can create a better conversation from it!

The first part of answering the poor question is to actually hear the poor question and not your interpretation of it or your thoughts about it. This requires a mind shift in how you view the question and you can learn more about that in the previous article.

We tend to answer poor questions like this:

Did you go broke at the mall? Ah, no, I managed to get what I needed.

It’s so subtle but we end up explaining our actions. And the question wasn’t asked: how and how much did you spend at the mall? We often (when not conscious of it) tend to answer from a place of defensiveness (of our actions). Even justifying them sometimes.

Once you understand that it’s the words of the other person that you need to respond to instead of how you interpreted the question, you can now answer it in a way that you want to. And if progressing the conversation to a dialogue is what you want, you can create a space in which to do so.

Here’s one way to do so. It’s called BBR (Bring it Back to a Response). But it originally comes from the work of psycholinguist Suzette Haden Elgin and she called it Baroque Boring Response. I modified it slightly and it’s a fantastic tool whenever you encounter a poor question.

The essence of the tool is to answer the question (even though it may be a Yes/No question) with 2-3 sentences that are related to the topic of the question. Now, in Elgin’s work it works to deflect verbal abusive statements or questions. Here, I use it to create a launching pad from which better conversation can happen.

One of the ways to do this and make it easier is to think of a response that includes talking about something you love or find interesting about the subject of the question. You add interesting, fun information rather than defending yourself and/or actions. Let’s tackle the questions form above!

Where are you (really) from? I was actually born in the hospital which the long running television series is based on. And one of my favourite actors happens to be in it. (Then I name the actor I’m referring to).

Did you go broke at the mall?

I found a lot of great shops that are owned by smaller brands and I hope that it continues that way and that smaller brands have a better chance of competing against the brands on the high street.

Didn’t you have the sushi? They make the best sushi rolls, don’t they? I’d usually order sushi but I heard about their signature dish of noddles with spicy shrimp and I couldn’t resist. I hope they offer a take away menu soon so I can enjoy it at home.

Believer or not, these questions have been asked of me and I’ve answered as above. Notice, I still answer their question (how I want to answer it) and then I add something of my experience that is genuine. None of these answers I had to “make up”.

This is really effective especially if these questions are asked with other people around. What usually happens is that someone else will jump into the conversation because of something I added and then the back and forth useless Closed questions becomes more of a conversation rather than a myriad of defending yourself.

If you’d like to hear more about this technique I discuss my experience with it in the podcast episode 6: How to handle poor questions Part 2.

1 thought on “How to answer poor questions

  1. Pingback: Handling poor questions | Bare in Mind

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