How to avoid answering difficult questions with poise and confidence
Everyone wants direct answers. And no one likes being lied to. However, in business, politics, and almost everywhere in life, sometimes it may be necessary to avoid answering certain kinds of questions. Just as a CEO may attempt to avoid answering sensitive questions regarding the company's new products before launch and parents don't share all of the family's finances with their children, you too may face situations in which directly answering a question may actually be counter-productive for your purposes. In all those kinds of situation, it's probably wise to avoid the question with grace and poise rather than fumbling, being caught off-guard, or even worse, lying.
Here are some tips on how you can duck questions:
Ask another question. When you are faced with a difficult question, one strategy is to answer the question with another question. Example: When asked about a view on a sensitive topic, one may respond: "what are you thoughts and opinions?"
Change the subject. Politicians are masters of this technique. When confronted with a particularly difficult question in which you don't have an answer, change the topic seamlessly. Example: "That's a fascinating point, but another big consideration is..."
Point out that someone else is better qualified to answer the question. When faced with a question for which you do not have the requisite knowledge to give an informed answer, you may defer to a more qualified authority to avoid answering the question. Example: "Given my particular expertise, I can tell you more about ___, but someone with more knowledge about ___ would be able to provide you with a better answer."
Answer with a generalization. Don't get too specific because you may divulge too much information or show that you don't actually know what you're talking about. Example: In response to whether a company will release new products this quarter, a CEO may respond: "we're a company that's always innovating."
Say that the question can't be answered specifically. This is a hedge against giving an answer to difficult questions that may not have any clear answers. By giving the disclaimer that the question cannot be answered specifically, you can only answer parts of the question without being comprehensive. Example: "Your question touches upon so many different considerations that I can't answer it specifically, but one aspect that I think is important is..."
Suggest several alternative answers, without choosing the "right" one. Instead of being pigeonholed into advocating only one view, you can introduce multiple views without claiming which one of these views may be the most preferable or correct. Example: "Perhaps he didn't get into his dream school because of his GPA, or maybe his test scores, or maybe his recommendations."
Comment on the subject of the question with enthusiasm but no answer. Pinpoint a topic that the question addresses and speak about it. Example: When asked about the results of one's scientific discovery, a scientist may respond: "I think it's fascinating that science has evolved to such a point that we are able to make such groundbreaking discoveries. The impact of such scientific research will change the world, and I am just so happy to be a leader in this field..."
Tell a joke and get them to laugh to avoid answering the question. Watch the YouTube video above starting at 2:00 to see how Ronald Reagan deflects the question about his age with humor and grace.
Of course, this list is not meant to be comprehensive, and in many cases, giving a direct answer to a question will be the most beneficial. However, there will be situation in which avoiding a question is necessary, and I hope this list will serve you well. If you know of other methods or techniques to gracefully dodge questions, I'd love to hear about them; please share by posting in the comments section below.