Do you have a short answer?

Career ladder: tips & tricks on how to answer unpleasant questions

Our columnist Marcus Werner is a television presenter and book author and works as a consultant for communication and personal development.

"What did you have for lunch yesterday?"
"Who will be your party's candidate for chancellor?"

Who asks leads. That this is really the case doesn't sound so obvious at first. Because whoever asks reveals that he has a knowledge deficit compared to the respondent.

But when we are in the role of the respondent in a conversation, we have to respond somehow to the question asked. The question puts us under pressure. Now it depends: what move do we make?

In this response to questions, out of the impulse to please others, we make the ONE typical mistake to our own disadvantage. In our minds we fall back in time as schoolchildren and unconsciously feel the urge to answer the questioner's questions in such a way that they can give them full points in the end. “Cool answer, I think it's good.” A straight one with asterisks.

The praise is of course good for us and flatters us. But to consider the answer as successful would be too short-sighted.
Because: What is it about when we talk to others? Let us remember: Our aim is to convince others of what has been said in the way we want. Yes, we are allowed to be so stubborn: in our own interest.

And that's why it's important to internalize: Agreement in our sense and satisfaction with the answer are not always identical.

Example: Imagine that the business manager A is sitting on a talk show and is asked by the presenter B: "Were you always loyal to your husband?"

"Dear colleagues, dear Uwe ..." Gags at the expense of others can sometimes slip away in the direction of bullying. But whoever reacts brilliantly scores points and leaves the field as the winner. Here are a few tips just in case.

And A replies: “No. I've had three affairs in the past twenty years. "
That would be an answer according to the moderator's taste. B would have landed an exclusive Scoup live. Satisfaction with the questioner, yes. But what does A get from the fact that B is cheering inside?
This admittedly very vivid example shows that the fact that the questioner leads does not mean that we can submit ourselves to him. In this game we have the task of reacting on our behalf. In order to convince with our answer in our sense. How does it work? By taking the lead in answering.

1. Inner attitude: "At eye level"

As respondents, we are in the weaker position until we dare to pursue our own interests. I still remember a panel discussion at which the GRÜNEN boss Annalena Baerbock was also a guest. When she had finished her answer, the moderator said: "But that was not my question." Then Baerbock: "But that was my answer."

The effect is enormous, because several announcements resonate in this remark. In addition to the message “asking questions will not help”, the attitude of the respondents becomes very clear: You can ask what you want, but I will answer what I want.

I advise you to adopt exactly this inner attitude. Because it is incredibly liberating. It releases us from the aforementioned student thinking that the answer is only good if the questioner sees it that way.

2. Change perspective by answering

Anyone who knows that they have sovereignty over their answers also dares to steer the conversation in their own way.
Typical constellation: Imagine you made a mistake at work and now your supervisor is foaming. Let's say that due to a lack of time you delayed an important appointment with a potential new customer for so long that he now took a bite from the competition.
The boss quotes you in his office: "What were you thinking?"
This question is ultimately a reproach: I completely incomprehensible how you could commit this mistake. The boss's goal right now may be to make you small. Motto: If I'm in a bad mood because of you, you should have some too.
Now your reflex could be: I'm trying to describe what I thought when I made the mistake. But what you do with it: You tell in bright colors about your failure. And in the end it will be: What you were thinking was obviously unsuitable. You can't get out of the number like this.

If you are faced with a pile of broken pieces for which you are responsible, then lead the conversation directly to more pleasant aspects. If you can guess that in conversation you will be confronted with unpleasant questions about previous mistakes, make a resolution to speak of the future. From a future in which such mistakes will no longer occur.
Something like this: “The mistake annoys me and I'm sorry. In the future I will ... "
This is the easiest way for the questioner to lose the desire to continue pecking at the past.
We often experience this method in these months in connection with incorrect assessments of the success of corona measures, for example on the question of why mouth and nose masks were initially discouraged as counterproductive. This accusation is often turned off in the style of: “This decision turned out to be a misjudgment. Now we know better. And that's why masks have long been part of the AHA rules. "

Friedrich Merz is considered a brilliant rhetorician, but he also polarizes. What you (and he) could do if you (or he) fear that you are somehow not coming across as really personable. A remote analysis.

3. Question the question

“Do you still beat your wife?” The classic trick question. Because this yes-no-question cannot be answered with yes or no without admitting that you have ever hit the woman. And this example shows: It is worthwhile to scan questions to see whether we should even get involved in answering them. If not: decline the question. Depending on the scope, also with plain text: “This question is already based on incorrect assumptions. That's why I can't answer it. "

I love this fine way of ironing. Because you have already readjusted the direction of the conversation. Time for you to clarify the matter on your behalf.
Questions that presuppose the wrong facts without even bringing them up for discussion are a sporting challenge. The point is to immediately expose them as such:
"Don't you find it ethically reprehensible to treat your workforce so ruthlessly?"
Don't say no now! Instead: “Your question does not fit. I don't deal with anyone. "

As soon as you find a question uncomfortable, quickly ask yourself why. Often it is because there is an assumption that you do not want to accept.
Extend the antennas and speak up if you feel that questions are unfair. They do exist after all: “wrong” questions. Another piece of wisdom from school that we can bury.

4. Elegantly circumnavigate annoying questions

We know that from our role as an audience: when politicians don't answer a question clearly. This is unsatisfactory for us. But for politicians, an evasive, vague answer is often more productive than a clear answer that could even more frustrate the audience.

If we are in the role of the respondent, the “circumnavigate” option is definitely one that we are allowed to take. Namely, when the clear answer is not in our interest, but the question is not obviously unsuitable. Or when we are running out of time in a conversation and we really want to bring something forward.
"But your product didn't do particularly well in the energy consumption test, did it?"
“Yes, we are still working on it. What we are particularly proud of, however, is that our customers rate the versatile application possibilities above average and that is because ... "
This may then be perceived as an obvious evasive maneuver. So what? For this you have accommodated the positive aspects. You can. Because you act on an equal footing and do not have to be forced to answer. And you decide for yourself when you see the time when evasive action runs counter to your goal of convincing the audience of your messages.

5. combine the methods

Speaking at eye level, shaping the direction with answers, questioning the questions and getting around the sticking points - you can combine all of these wonderfully.
An example that we all know: "Who will be your candidate for Chancellor?"
The party politicians questioned like to squirm here and try to circumvent the clear answer in the sense of "It is now mainly about factual questions". But in the meantime some experienced old hands are reacting according to the method “I decide what to answer myself” and without gossip: “I understand your journalistic curiosity, but for us as a party it makes no sense to make this persona public so early because that would offer a target for too long a period of time that, in case of doubt, would be of less use than harm to us. ”What is the point of asking questions?

It happens again and again that interview guests who are inexperienced in the media ask me in the studio before the broadcast: "But just nice questions please, okay?"

I usually answer something like this: "No matter what I ask you: you can answer what you want."

We just have to take this freedom.

More on the subject: Prepare your team for the Corona winter in good time. The coronavirus can fly through indoor air in aerosols.

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