I’ve been thinking a lot about questions and about fielding questions lately. We humans love to ask each other a whole lot of questions, don’t we?
It seems that everyone in my life keeps coming to me with the same trouble– dealing with the questions they get asked that they either don’t feel like answering, or for which they simply don’t have an answer to give. The truth is that everyone has particular questions, or questions about certain topics that they hate getting asked. And in the process of having to field these inquiries despite your discomfort, you end up feeling entirely overwhelmed or downright upset.
It can feel like someone has taken a microscope and a blindingly bright light, and zeroed right in on the zit sitting on your fair cheek. Wielding a giant, wooden chopstick perhaps, they poke at the eruption with a “what’s going on there?” Except they don’t realize that you just spent forty-five minutes in the bathroom trying your absolute hardest to cover that pimple up with your secret weapon extra-strength concealer, and, even worse, that it’s an Underground Pimple- you know, the kind that sits under the surface and hurts like hell?
Now, let’s give your interviewer the benefit of the doubt here; they probably don’t realize that the issue they’re inquiring into just happens to be the giant, bubble-lettered, neon pink question mark hanging perpetually above your head. They may think that they’re just making pleasant conversation.
I mean, worst case scenario they know full well that they’re diving into your ever-deepening quicksand of doubt and insecurity, yet they ask anyway– because they either don’t care, or they’re cruel, and they want to see you squirm.
But again, let’s go with giving them the benefit of the doubt, because here at Live Simply, we try to believe in the good of people.
Rather than address this dilemma from a strictly abstract, emotional and sentimental standpoint, I’ve decided to go the route of the pragmatic, and provide you with a helpful guide that I like to call “Four Techniques For Fielding Dreaded Questions.”
Technique 1: “The Enthusiastic Evade”
Q: “So, you and Josh have been married for, what, two years now? When can we expect you guys to start having kids?”
A: “Not today!”
Q: “Is he The One?”
A: “He is right now!”
Q: “What are you thinking in terms of your next employment position?”
A: “It’s going to be a surprise even to me!”
See the beauty of “The Enthusiastic Evade” is that hopefully, your slightly comical and totally mysterious response will throw them off their questioning game and cause them to momentarily become a bit flustered. This will give you the opportunity to grab hold of the reins of conversation and masterfully steer it back towards a direction of topic with which you feel more comfortable.
Technique 2: “The Admitted Answer-In-Progress And Dose Of Reassurance”
Q: “Seriously Joanna, aren’t you and Josh going to start having kids soon?”
A: “Yeah, Josh and I are still working to figure out the optimal timing for starting our family, so I don’t have a definite answer for you right now. You’ll be first to get the baby bulletin when it goes out!”
Q: “You guys have been together for ages now, aren’t you going to get married soon?”
A: “We’re still figuring out how best to navigate our relationship in terms of style and time frame. But I’ll keep you posted if he pops the question!”
Q: “So what’s going on with the job hunt? What kind of positions are you looking for?”
A: “You know, finding an optimal position is so complex, so I’m working on figuring out all those aspects for myself right now. When I have the answers, you can be sure I’ll let you know. “
The beauty of this technique is that you provide your questioner with a reason as to why you aren’t answering– you don’t have the answer, yourself, let alone to give to them. You abate their anxiety and pressure by reassuring them that as soon as you solidify those answers, you’ll be sure to clue them in. They’ll like that.
Technique 3: “The Cunning Deflection”
Q: “It’s been just you and Josh forever, aren’t you going to add some kids to the family?”
A: “Oh, sure sometime soon, but tell me about your kids! What’s going on with all those scamps? What sports are they playing these days?”
Q: “Are you guys going to get married or what?”
A: “Oh, marriage, what a topic. Speaking of, what’s going on with yours?”
Q: “So tell me, what kind of job are you looking for?”
A: “Oh my gosh jobs! That reminds me that I’ve been dying to hear about yours. Want to tell me about it?”
Technique 3 allows you to turn the tables right back around on your interviewer, and put the question in their hands. People like that because they love to talk about themselves, so nine times out of ten, they’ll take the bait. Plus, very often people will inquire about the topics that are most relevant to the issues in their own lives. So maybe, actually, by turning those tables and asking their question back to them, you’re doing them a favor; you’re inviting them to discuss what they needed to talk about in the first place. Your welcome’s all around.
Technique 4: “The Bold-Face Boundary-Establishing Shut Down”
Q: “When are you guys going to start having kids?”
A: “You know, I don’t really feel like discussing that. I know you’re just curious and concerned, and I love you for that. Let’s move on to a different subject.”
Q: “Is marriage on the horizon for you two?”
A: “I don’t feel comfortable going into that right now. I prefer to keep those details private, and I hope you don’t take it personally.”
Q: “Who have you talked to about getting hired?”
A: “That’s a topic I’d prefer to steer clear from. I’m happy to talk with you, but just not about that. I hope you can understand.”
This final technique is all about establishing boundaries in your conversation. Please know this: you don’t ever have to discuss anything just because someone has asked you a question about it. You have every right to assert your line of comfort, and firmly but calmly state that you simply won’t be talking about a particular subject. You can also follow that statement by expressing that you understand their intentions behind asking. You acknowledge that their question is coming from a place of love, and, even still, you won’t be answering it. Period. The end.
Note: USING THIS TECHNIQUE DOES NOT MAKE YOU MEAN. It makes you strong, and to be strong is not to be mean. To think otherwise would be a sort of wussy reaction to the idea of acting assertively.
There you have it folks, my Four Techniques For Fielding Dreaded Questions! I hope you find it useful. And even more, I hope you get what’s really underneath all of this: that it’s perfectly okay–more than, human!– if there are questions that you just aren’t yet prepared to answer. Hey, we all get zits (you don’t? Bastard.). That’s the point of living; to live is to uncover the answers as you go. It’s inevitable that people will ask you questions along the way, because it’s impossible for anyone else to trace whether or not you’ve reached the point of certainty on any particular path. The best you can do in those situations is to (use one of the 4 techniques listed above) stay calm, and remind yourself that just because you don’t have an answer, doesn’t mean you don’t have a hold on your life.
Image credit: Murray Mitchell