“Where are you from?” “What are your goals?” “What makes you qualified to do this job?” “Would you like sugar or cream in your coffee?”
These are just a few questions we may encounter in our lifetime. Whether we are at work, at a social event or in our own home, questions arise. Some are a lot easier to answer than others. Questions often make us feel uncomfortable, even when we invite them. They can sometimes be intrusive, inappropriate, culturally insensitive, or just simply catch us off-guard. In addition, a question requires an answer, which we feel we are expected to produce within seconds. That’s a lot of pressure!
However, in many cases, we are putting that pressure on ourselves. Answering a question well requires decision-making. How do you want to answer? Is an immediate answer required? Do you want to address the question at all? Now, there are situations in which we are expected to respond to a question(s) immediately, such as in a debate, a committee meeting, or a job interview. In many circumstances, though, we can (and should!) give ourselves permission to slow down and determine how to respond wisely.
Sometimes, the wisest way to handle an awkward question is to not respond at all. If you choose to go this route, be transparent about why. Transparency in relationships, whether professional or personal, builds trust and openness. If we find ourselves in an awkward situation, it is appropriate to be honest and express how we feel about the question being asked. Responses like, “I’d rather not answer that question,” or, “I’m not certain of the answer, but I’ll get back to you,” are respectful ways to honor both your own feelings and those of the asker. When appropriate, we can also use humor as a way to smoothly change the subject.
Ultimately, you have the power to choose how (or if) you respond to an awkward question. Since the question was posed to you, the power is in your hands. Here are some helpful tips for building the confidence to use that power wisely.