How to negotiate awkward questions
We often find people asking questions and probing into our lives. For some it’s fine, but for others who don’t feel they’re in a good place right now, it's intrusive and unsettling. We all have standards when it comes to manners and not wanting to offend the person probing for information, we sometimes reluctantly and uncomfortably give it all away in a rush of anxiety.
There are many reasons we want to keep things private, fear of judgement and misunderstanding is one of the main reasons. No matter how much we may say:
“I don’t care what they think of me”
We still do care on some level. Not only that, we quite often get pushed back to our inner child when being asked personal questions as you once were years ago by a parent or teacher and feel a pressure to answer honestly and in full.
Many clients suffer with feelings of stress and anxiety, and quite often the problem is other people. Social skills levels vary in all of us, depending on our upbringing, our self-esteem and confidence, our character and how much we really enjoy others company.
But for those of us who struggle, there are a few techniques that will help you dodge and avoid those awkward probing questions and uncomfortable conversations with family, friends and colleagues.
Just before the event, it’s wise to just check in with yourself and be aware that you intend to tackle each encounter differently this time and take control using these techniques...
Distract - Diffuse - Delay
This skill is used to change the subject of conversation or line of questioning being directed at you. It’s useful if you know some details about the person directing the questions or details about someone you mutually know.
Awkward question: “So how’s the job hunting going?”
- Answer 1 “That reminds me, I forgot to ask you about your new job.” (about them)
- Answer 2 “Job hunting? I’ve been spending time with my son, you know he’s starting senior school soon.” (about you but redirected)
- Answer 3 “Talking of jobs, I wonder how that job is going for uncle Mike.” (about someone else)
You can of course answer a question with another question, which is another form of distraction...
Awkward Question: “I heard you lost your job, how are you managing financially?”
- Question response: “Oh fine, talking of money, didn’t uncle Jim win the lottery?"
If confrontation is possible, this can cause a great amount of anxiety before the event. Learning diffusing skills helps you to stay in control and levels your emotions but also reflects the behaviour back to the source allowing them to become aware of their behaviour. Direct reflection must be done carefully as twisting their words may come across as retaliation. The key with all of this is to remain sounding calm in your voice and keeping your own emotions out of the words.
Confrontational Question: “Why do you always turn up late and ruin everything?”
- Answer 1 “I’m sorry you feel my being late has ruined everything” (direct reflection of their words absorbing their anger)
- Answer 2 “Perhaps there is something I can do to help put things right” (offering a solution)
- Answer 3 “Perhaps we could discuss how you feel about this later... properly” (offering to talk extensively later once feeling calmer)
If you are someone that has difficulty saying ‘no’ to people and seem to take on everything that is asked of you, maybe you stutter and stumble when faced with difficult questions and personal subjects, or you might be caught off guard and suddenly put on the spot. This skill gives you time to go away and think about your response or completely avoid it all together.
Awkward question: “So how’s the love life going?”
- Answer 1 “Now there’s a question, I just need to pop to the loo, back soon.”
- Answer 2 “Excuse me just one moment while I grab a glass of water, I’ve got a dry throat.”
- Answer 3 “Hold that thought, just remembered I think I left my phone in the car.”
These all politely allow you time to escape giving you a moment to compose an answer or just dodge the person completely.
So you may find it’s just easier not to talk about yourself and your situation certainly with family, friends and colleagues.
But that’s not saying that keeping it all inside is a good idea... it certainly isn’t!
Finding the right person to talk to is the key, it might be a trusted friend or better still a therapist or counsellor who is impartial and non-judgemental. In these sessions you can talk about anything and everything, in fact the counsellor welcomes it, and you’d be amazed how much better you feel after just one session.
These are just some of the techniques your tailored plan may involve. It’s different for each person, and in therapy, we can use the time to practise and come up with some great responses to the expected uncomfortable questions you could be asked.
Preparation and practise is such a comfort to many clients, and just having that tailored plan sitting in your back pocket is a real reassurance and confidence booster for those awkward moments spent with nosey people.
Why not try out some of the techniques on people that don’t upset you, learn to master them, feel in control and much more comfortable within social situations.
Take care, Sam.
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