How to Answer a Question, Pt. 2

NOTE: Be sure to read part one of this series first!

And now, to continue our discussion on how to answer a question…

6. Reverse the question. This counterintuitive answer is unexpected, and therefore captures people’s attention. For example, if you were asked, “What do you want your life to look like in five years?” you could catch people off guard by answering:

“A more important question is: ‘What do I want my life NOT to look like in five years?’”

Punctuated with a nice, juicy pause, this creatively contrarian response is guaranteed open up new doors.

7. “You know, I’d really have to think about that.” Nobody is forcing you to answer right away. Give yourself permission to chew on your answer for a while. By using this conversational bookmark, you buy yourself time so you can put some REAL thought into your answer.

It also honors the question itself. And, if you give people a deadline, i.e., “I’ll have my answer by the end of the day,” or “I’ll let you know when I see you at lunch,” they’ll eagerly anticipate your final response, while still respecting your boundary.

8. “It doesn’t matter.” Some questions, powerful as they may be, are irrelevant. So, if you can do so in a respectful way, explain to your questioner that there’s something bigger or more important than what was originally asked. For example, I once asked my mentor the existential question, “Am I a leader?” Pen in hand, hoping for an enlightening response, Arthur unexpectedly said, “Scott, that question doesn’t matter.”

I leaned in closer, more curious than ever.

“Seeking leadership destroys the process,” Arthur said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a leader, or if people think you’re a leader. What DOES matter is that you’re passionate. And approachable. And that you’re a great listener. Practice those keys and people WILL be inspired and they WILL want to get behind you.”

Changed my life.

9. “OK, well, that’s really THREE questions…” A pet peeve of mine is when someone SAYS they’re going to ask you “A” question; but instead they morph it into a three or four question barrage.

Now, people don’t always do this consciously. Often times, multiple questioning evolves organically because someone became excited or caught up in the conversational current. Which is fine. (The media are notorious for this.)

In that case, your response is fourfold:

STOP. Help your overzealous or excited friend slow down the pace of the conversation by holding your hand(s) in the “stop/pause” gesture.

RECOGNIZE. With a patient smile, address the questioner’s misnomer, i.e., “OK, Tom, you just asked me three questions.” This emphasis on the increased number of questions will help keep your partner on point. And usually, people will return a smile once they recognize their (minor) conversational error.

ANSWER. Take one question at a time. Address each issue. Consider repeating each question AND numbering your answers to keep an organized mental record, i.e., “OK, so the third question you asked was…”

REMIND. Once you’ve answered ALL the questions hurled at you (twenty minutes later), be sure to offer a clarifying remark like, “Did I answer ALL your questions?” This respectful gesture demonstrates a willingness to be thorough, along with a playful reminder of their mathematical oversight.

10. I don’t know. Three simple, beautiful, honest and underused words. I don’t know. They demonstrate humility and imperfection and prove that you’re smart, but not a smarty pants. So, if you choose to answer in this way, I suggest combining “I don’t know” with an Ownership Statement. For example:

“I don’t know … so let me find someone who DOES know…”
“I don’t know … let me think about that for a while. Can I email my answer to you tomorrow?”
“I don’t know … I would need to know more information about (x) to make an informed decision.”

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with BEING ignorant – only STAYING ignorant.

– – –

The goal of answering questions in these ten creative, counterintuitive and unexpected ways is NOT to dodge the truth; nor is to make yourself appear brilliant.

It’s about achieving a higher level of thinking for both parties.

Whether you’re having conversations with your customers, employees or the media; or with your partners, kids or dogs, consider the possibility that every question you’re asked COULD be answered with, “Well, that all depends…”

How do YOU answer questions?

For the list called, “62 Types of Questions and Why They Work,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag

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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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