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Friday, March 25, 2011

A Question is Asked: Is An Answer Required?

When a question is posed to most of us, we feel compelled to answer it.  It is as if a question is actually a demand that an answer be given.

We are trapped.  We MUST answer.

No, no, no.  You ALWAYS have a choice.

In a story in Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore the old grey donkey, loses his tail.  When Christopher Robin finds it, the tail is acting as a bell pull for the door to Owl's hollow tree.  There is also a door knocker for the door.  A very wise note is found between the two:


How perfect - I love the concept that an answer might not be required or REQUID, as it were.

Here are three alternatives to try when a question is asked and our choice is NOT TO ANSWER it.
  • Change the subject:
1.  Indirectly:  Ignore the question and simply change the subject.

This happens in the movies and soap operas all the time.  The writers are anxious for you to stay glued to your seat until the very end so frequently they pose questions to which no answer is given.


  Tom (in a desperate voice): "Jeremy, did you see which way he went?"
  Jeremy, looking out the window: "I always loved the way she wore her hair...."

Jeremy changes the subject without blinking an eye.  Actually in this example, the subject change is helped by LACK OF EYE CONTACT.  Sometimes the nonverbal act of avoiding eye contact with the questioner disrupts the connection enough that the subject change is hardly noticed.

2.  Directly:  Use an assertive statement to change the subject.

For example, use a simple "I want" statement:

"I want to talk about something else. I'd like to discuss where we are going to dinner tonight."

Notice that in a direct change of subject, you DO NOT HAVE TO JUSTIFY your change of subject.  Simply state a preference.  Nonverbally in this example, be careful to make sure that your voice goes down in tone at the end of the sentence.

  • Use Empathy, but Don't Answer the Question
Using empathy keeps the other person from being cut off from you by your choice not to answer the question.  The other person at least feels your effort to make a connection even though you are not cooperating by answering.

In the following example, the first part of the statement is EMPATHIC and the second part is a SIMPLE ASSERTION not to answer the question.

"I know you are curious about my decision to do XXXXX and I'm sure it is difficult for you not to get the information you want, BUT I would prefer to talk about the weather, the
latest book you've read, or the news of the day."

Again notice that you do not need to justify your decision not to answer the question.   You simply state a preference.

  • Directly Confront the Other Person, but Don't Answer the Question
I would use this method if a person continues to push you to answer something about which you would prefer not to talk to him/her.  You will employ a firmer tone of voice in this example because you want to send the nonverbal signal: DROP IT and your voice tone can add to the strength of what you are saying.

Example:  You have been trying to have a baby for years now with no luck.  You are at a family gathering where your cousin, let's call her Jan, who has five children herself asks you for the fifteenth time:  "When are you and Sam going to start your family?  Better not wait too long."

You say, "Jan, this is an uncomfortable subject for me. I have asked you not to bring it up, but you do, every time we get together.  I am not going to discuss this with you and would appreciate it if you would honor my request not to bring it up."

Remember, a question asked does not REQUIRE an answer.  You have a choice to respond or not to respond.  If you choose not to answer the question, you do not need to justify that choice.