5 types of difficult questions and how to answer them

17 Jun, 2019Edward Appleby

This article was originally written and published by Speak First.

Asking the difficult questions

When you’re giving a presentation, or when giving a report at a meeting, you might be asked questions that you don’t have answers to. Or maybe you do have the answers, but you don’t know how to express them properly. Knowing how to answer difficult or hostile questions is an important skill, as the wrong answer could land you in hot water.

We have identified several difficult types of questions you may encounter and how to successfully respond to them.

1. “What If…?”

These questions try to pull you into discussing hypothetical scenarios. At best, they can lead to an irrelevant tangent, but at worst they can make your audience think this made up scenario is now a realistic possibility.

When you get asked something like ‘What if the budget isn’t approved?’ try to put a positive spin without being drawn in. ‘We’ve spent a lot of time preparing a realistic budget and we are confident we’ll get approval.’

2. Leading/Loaded Questions

Sometimes a question will be phrased in a way that implies something, such as ‘We know this has been a difficult year, is management up to the job?’ Before getting into the answer, think about whether you agree with the statement it’s making.

Reframe the question, otherwise you’ll end up answering it from a position you disagree with. So, to answer the question above, you could say ‘This year has been a positive one in learning how to handle a combination of unexpected circumstances. We have learnt many lessons and now we’re confident we can deliver excellent returns this year.’

3. Off the record questions

Just because someone says a question is ‘off the record’ or ‘just between us,’ does not necessarily mean it will stay that way. Be extremely careful about revealing sensitive information or revealing more than you should do, especially if you’re talking in a public place.

4. No-win questions

‘Is the decline in sales due to poor management or poor selling?’ Just because someone asked you to pick between two bad options does not mean you need to give either answer. You could answer by saying something like ‘I don’t think it’s as simple as that.’ This allows you to explain your answer without being drawn into their trap.

5. Yes or No questions

Just because an answer could be easily answered with one word (and the question asker may want it to be) doesn’t mean you have to do it. For a question such as ‘Will there be compensation for everyone affected by the office move?’ you could answer with a ‘Yes, but…’ and explain the situation more fully, or if you do not want to give such a definitive answer you could say something like ‘We’ve considered how everyone will be affected and are working on several proposals to address the situation.’


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