Table of Contents
Introduction To Dodging
In this article you will learn everything you know to become a master question dodger. We also cover what to do if people dodge your questions.
What Is Question Dodging?
When an individual avoids answering a question, they are question dodging. Question dodging is frequently used by politicians and other public figures when they don’t want to give time or focus to a topic.
Synonyms For Dodging The Question
Question dodging is also referred to as “question evasion,” “diverting a question,” “Ignoring the question,” or “finessing the question.”
When Should You Dodge A Question?
Dodge a question when you want to dodge a question. No one is entitled to the ability to force you to behave the way they want. Even in legal settings you can choose not to answer a question and just face contempt. However, dodging a question usually has consequences. Think about why you are dodging first.
People commonly dodge personal questions in public settings. Occasionally reporters pry too far into a public figure’s life. Sometimes acquaintances ask about things that are none of their business. You might even be confronted with a situation where a friend asks a question that is inappropriate to answer at that point. In these situations use the dodging techniques we listed below. People might be disappointed or even angry that you are not answering their question. But you will be even more frustrated with yourself if you people please and answer when you know you shouldn’t.
Another situation where people dodge questions is an a business or tactical situation. Questions can be used to imply that an individual has a weakness or doesn’t know something. If you answer the question it can’t possibly help your tactical position. In situations like these, dodge the question and maintain your leverage. Use the tricks below.
Often people use morality or an appeal to social norms to get you to answer their question. Remember there are no situations where anyone is entitled to force you to act a certain way. If you want to be mean, immoral, dumb, sneaky, or malicious by not answering the question, it is your choice to act that way. No one is entitled to you behaving in the way they see is correct. Only answer if you want to.
What Is The Psychology Of Avoiding Questions?
People can avoid questions because they are embarrassed of the answer because it reflects on them negatively in that social situation. This is driven by the fact that humans are social creatures. We are effected by both internal wiring, studied by psychology and neuroscience, and external pressures, studied by things like psychology and sociology.
Another reason individuals dodge questions is because they have elements of narcissism. Part of narcissism is thinking what you want to focus on is more important. Some dismiss questions as simply irrelevant to their wants and desires. In a way, narcissists feel entitled for social situations to revolve around them.
Some argue that avoiding questions can be a form of lying. Lying can be a way of purposefully deceiving others or avoiding coming to terms with some truth. This is called self deception. Some studies estimate that people lie in around one quarter of their interactions. Lies include omission where people simply remain silent in order to deceive. Dodging can be a form of lying depending on how you do it. Ask yourself if that version of answering the question purposefully leaves an incorrect impression in the world as to what the truth is.
Finally people avoid questions simply because they are being competitive or strategic. If answering a question leaves you with less leverage, why answer it? For example, if you are asked about other job offers in an interview, and you only have that job, answering would allow the company to pay you less money. Answering another person’s question can also make you start to lose control of the conversation which can result in a loss of perceived dominance or status.
Why Do People Feel Pressure To Answer Questions?
If you are stuck in a situation where you feel pressured to answer personal questions, it could be because you are a people pleaser. People pleasers act in a socially desirable way even when it hurts them. They do this to avoid confrontation and rejection. Personality studies theorize that this is more typical for people higher on trait agreeableness. These individuals value social cohesion and don’t enjoy competitive fights. One study theorized that increased sensitivity to mental stress or discomfort causes people to be more vulnerable to conforming. The video is here. Check out these two studies “Hard to disagree,” and “Popularity.”
It could also be because you are high in conscientiousness and feel that some rule compels you to answer the question. Conscientious people intrinsically value things like order and dutifulness. If you believe answering a question is expected, the conscientious part of your brain will push you to be dutiful to that feeling. If you want to eliminate this compulsion, reframe that rule. Think of reasons it does not apply. Think of reasons obeying that rule breaks a rule that is more important to you, namely your self respect.
What Is The Philosophy Of Question Dodging?
The notion of privacy also gives some justification to question dodging. While the idea of privacy is disputed, privacy can be defined as a right that allows you to control access to information (or other things) about oneself. Someone who argues that they have a right to dodge a question could simply be stating that their right to privacy is more important than your entitlement to the information withheld. That brings us to the idea of entitlement.
Entitlement is a state of mind where someone feels they deserve an outcome. Usually these individuals feel some social, moral, or physical rule allows them to demand that a question is answered. Ultimately though, their ability to force you to answer a question relies on you accepting their threat. This answer is very loosely based on a very abstracted version of Nozick’s Entitlement Theory. No one is entitled to anything in life as laws and social structures that typically enforce entitlement can change.
This section covers practical tricks as well as psychological techniques for scientifically improving your ability to dodge questions.
How Can You Use Psychology Better Evade Questions?
There is an actual psychological strategy to optimally avoid answering questions. If you structure your dodge in the right way, people are less likely to catch it or care about it. You want to get as close to answering the person’s question as possible with out answering it.
The study link above theorizes that effective dodges work when the purpose of the conversation is focused on social evaluation. Social evaluation is when someone is primarily asking themself the question “Do I like this person?” If you can make the conversation focused not on technical accuracy but on social liking, and then dodge a question by answering a similar question, you can probably get away with a dodge with no consequences.
Working memory also seems to play a role in catching dodges. You can take advantage of this by layering lots of information into your dodge, like the filibuster technique listed below.
One method we have had success with is to focus on topics that are not of any serious relevance so people’s conscientious drives don’t get triggered. Mimic the tone, pace, and words that an answer would typically have.
Another thing to keep in mind is the importance of having multiple people who are willing to ignore inappropriate questions. If you are surrounded by people who you have good relationships with and a poor question is asked, you can just ignore the question and start talking to someone else. These people will likely recognize the inappropriate question and be willing to help you move the conversation in another direction. Think of them as conversational allies.
How Do You Politely Decline Answering Questions?
- Questioning the question. Simply say “Why do you ask?” This puts the other person in a defensive and explanatory position. You can think of an answer while they speak or simply change the topic once they explain why they asked. You can also question the question’s relevance, timeliness, or importance. For example: “Why is that what we should be focused on right now? Aren’t there more important topics?”
- You can also just ignore the question completely and just change the topic.
- Filibustering is an easily used technique if you are naturally a talker. Simply pretend to answer the question by repeating some of the words in their question and then jump to a different topic. Don’t stop talking until they have forgotten their question. For example, “Where were you last weekend?” You could say, “last weekend that movie came out about the gerbil, so I…” Then just keep talking while they wait for you to tie it back into their question. This technique works best when the topic is similar to their question and when the topic has some element of attention grabbing to it. Would you be more patient waiting to hear about how a 7 car pileup had to do with your question or a discussion of how your grass grew a quarter inch? See our post on why people don’t listen when you speak for more information on this topic.
- Answering the question you wish they asked. If they ask “why do your parents look so frail,” pretend they asked “why do your parents look so healthy.” This technique requires confidence. Simply look directly in their eyes and answer. If they call you on it, simply double down on your answer. They will eventually quit.
- You can also just insist that the question has already been answered earlier. When they disagree, double down. If they accuse you of dodging, accuse them of wasting everyone’s time.
- Just say no. “I won’t comment on that.” When they ask why, just say “because I won’t comment on that.” Another version is to say “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” However, this last approach comes across as weak so I wouldn’t use it much.
- Playing dumb is another technique. Pretend to not understand their question and then ask clarifying questions about what they mean. This works well with more complicated topics. For example, “Why do you believe/disbelieve in God?” Instead of answering just ask them to start defining their terms. “What do you mean by believe/disbelieve?” Keep the conversation focused on the terms until they forget the question. This technique is best applied by someone who can appear to be legitimately both dumb and curious at the same time.
- Try saying that their question isn’t on topic. “We really need to stay on topic right now, maybe we can answer that later. We are focused on discussing new bus routes right now.” This is arguably the best way to dodge questions in work settings.
- Challenge the assumption. Sometimes questions have assumptions built into them. Challenge that assumption. For example, “Why are you so mean,” assumes you are mean. You could respond with “why would you say that I am being mean? Couldn’t you have just misinterpreted?” This is very similar to technique #1.
- Reframe the question. If you don’t want to answer, simply say there is a better way to look at the topic. For example if asked “how is the ozone able to keep the earth warm,” you could say “well that isn’t the best way to look at why the earth is warm. The best way is to look at the sun.” This works because sometimes people just totally approach the question from the wrong perspective. Sell this with an air of authority.
- Try using deflection or distraction to dodge a question. This works really well in social situations. If asked an uncomfortable joke, you can simply exaggerate the real answer. This captures attention and allows you to appear like you answered.
- You can just simply say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” Then say you will find the answer or suggest they talk to someone who can. This is the preferred strategy for more intellectual situations since it is 100% honest and shows intellectual humility.
- The delay tactic is also useful. Simply say that you cannot answer the question at the moment because you don’t have enough information.
- Try using the general answer tactic. If someone asks what you think the most important part of your job is, say “I really take my job seriously from the clients to the research and paperwork.”
We have found the most effective dodges are to either simply refuse to answer (#6), to say that the question is not on topic (#8), or to question the question (#1).
Warning! Make sure you take into account your audience. The more educated they are on the topic the more likely they are to catch your dodge. In those situations, you are best off using technique #12, “I don’t know.”
Aggressive Dodging Techniques
- The first aggressive technique is to shame and attack. This is a derivation of techniques #10 and #1, the reframe and questioning the question. Instead of keeping the focus on your answer, move the focus to the other person. You can say things like “that is really a disgusting question to ask, what is wrong with you,” or “you would ask a dumb thing like that,” or “in what world do you think that question benefits anyone.” The key here is to make your attack focused on a value that the person and culture around you have. For example if the culture doesn’t care about moral cleanliness, don’t say “that is a really dirty topic to bring up.”
- Next comes a version of #4, answer a question you wish they asked. When asked the question, simply pretend they said something you agree with. For example if asked “why is your wife always so grumpy,” simply say “I agree, she is such a pleasant person and I enjoy being around her.” You could also say “You are right, that topic is really none of your business.” This will throw people off guard because it is extremely uncommon. The key to pulling this off is confidence. This technique is only under the aggressive section because you are blatantly misinterpreting the person’s words which doesn’t fall under the heading ‘polite.’
Useful Phrases For Avoiding Answering A Question
Each technique listed in the last and second to last section has an example phrase. The best ones are “I understand you think X is important, but the real issue is Y,” “I don’t know,” or “I agree, that is none of your business.”
How Do You Deal With A Nosy Person?
The best way to deal with a nosy person is to frame them as such. See our article on character assassination for more detailed information. The next time they are nosy, refuse to answer the question, tell them it is none of their business, and label them as overbearing or nosy. If that doesn’t work, try getting nosy with their life on something you know they don’t want to talk about. Finally you can resort to verbal character attacks if need be.
How Do You Avoid Questions Over Text?
One useful technique for avoiding questions over text is the picture technique. When you use the picture technique, you respond to the question with a funny, ironic, ponderous, or other picture. For example, if your roommate texts you asking “why did you not put the peanut butter away,” instead of answering, send a meme or gif of a character doing an evil laugh. (See Image Above). This responds to the person’s text but allows you to avoid answering.
If that doesn’t suit your text conversation, try the general dodging techniques below as they work well in most situations.
How Do You Write A Non Committal Answer?
The best way to write a non committal answer is to attach a certain phrase at the end of the paragraph that undermines everything you said. This is commonly used in philosophical arguments to hone the argument. For example, you might spend a whole paragraph arguing that you believe your car is in your garage. But at the end of the paragraph you say “unless my friend took it to the store.” Thus the last phrase undercuts all the other things you said and is non committal.
You could also just refuse to commit to something by listing the negatives. For example, you can refuse to commit to attending a social event and then say you won’t commit because “it is likely to be boring,” “it is far away,” or “last time my friends didn’t enjoy themselves.” This strategy moves the focus from you not committing to the discussion about whether the party is worth committing to at all.
Another way to write an answer that doesn’t commit you to anything is to use heavily conditional language. This is the bread and butter of contract law. For example, you can promise to pay for dinner only if a whole list of conditions are met. You might say that the dinner must be a kind of meal you like, taste good to you, not give you a stomach ache, and make you smile. If one of these conditions is not met, you haven’t committed to paying for the meal. In more technical terms, you have said each condition is necessary for you to pay.
Finally, you can make all your statements dependent on one event that is extremely unlikely to happen. For example, you can promise to help your friend in their garden if your spouse gets home early from work. If you know for sure your spouse isn’t getting home early from work, promising to help in the garden doesn’t commit you to anything.
Keep in mind the consequences of frequently using non committal answers in your communication. Eventually people will get irritated with you.
Witty Ways To Dodge A Question
Arguably the most witty way to dodge a question is by making an exaggeration joke. See below. You can also use the technique where you answer the question you wish they asked. If they call you on it, simply insist you answered the question and the start talking about something else.
Funny Ways To Dodge A Question
One strategy is to blow your answer out of proportion. Example: Someone asks a where your spouse is at that moment. Instead of saying they are on the phone with a collection agency, you could say “probably screaming at some poor call center representative for pronouncing her name incorrectly.”
Another is to exaggerate the situation surrounding the question. For example, if you are in a social situation and someone is asking too many questions, you could say: “Am I being detained? I would like to exercise my right to remain silent and not self incriminate.”
The last way we will mention is to use something called a comedic triple. If someone asks what you are doing this weekend you could say “I am cleaning my house, changing the oil, and running naked across the freeway.” This creates a distraction that might make people move on.
If you want to know more about how to be funny in general, check out this book or this site. Being able to be funny in any situation will actually bring you more control and power if you apply comedy correctly. The suggestions above are just basic comedy structures applied to question dodging.
How Do You Practice Question Dodging?
The best way to improve your question dodging skills is to do two things. First and foremost you need to practice. The easiest way to practice is to stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself personal questions. Then dodge the question and watch your body language. It is best to choose one polite dodging technique and one aggressive dodging technique and stick to only using that one for a while. You can eventually practice in new social situations since new social situations often bring many ‘get to know you’ type questions. If you need more practice, put yourself in more unfamiliar social situations.
The second way to improve is to think about the questions you could get asked in important situations and specifically prepare for those questions. Common situations where people ask questions you don’t want to answer would be at work or in social situations. You can even make a list of every personal question you can remember asking and practice from that list. Add to it when you come across a new question. Eventually you will be well practiced at dodging any question you don’t want to answer.
Finally, you can watch political debates. YouTube has hundreds of various political debates on their platform. Watch them until you begin to pick up a dodge trick you can use. Don’t just look for debates in your country.
What To Say Or Do If Someone Dodges Your Question
People will dodge your questions at some point or another. But it is important to have an escalation path, so you don’t jump to the more intense methods and look like you are overreacting. If they dodge, start with one of the polite methods and then move to the aggressive ones if they don’t respond.
The Polite Methods
Sometimes people dodge questions on accident. This is usually because they either misunderstood what you were wondering or they forgot as they began talking.
The best way to respond to this situation is to do one of two things. The first time it happens, simply summarize what they said and then restate the question. You might even add in a close ended question at the end. For example:
“So you are saying the mail man comes too late for your family, but I was wondering if you remembered what time they came yesterday. Are you saying you don’t remember?”
Another way to handle the situation is to simply ask how their response answered your question. You can do this in a polite way, for example:
“You said the car broke down. But I asked when the car would be fixed. Will you help me understand how that answered my question?”
If neither of these techniques works, the person is probably dodging your question on purpose. Are you asking something you aren’t entitled to? Check out the next section if you need help knowing what to do if they are purposefully dodging your question and the above techniques haven’t worked.
The Aggressive Methods
Sometimes people don’t want to answer your question and the polite ways of re-asking don’t work. This leaves a few more coercive techniques that can put more pressure on the person to answer. Remember coercion can cause resentment in the long term so make sure you strategize accordingly.
The first technique for handling question dodgers is to call out what they are doing. If you call out their behavior this can socially embarrass them or put pressure on them to answer so they don’t start getting a reputation for being difficult.
The second technique is to stone wall. Refuse to answer any more of their questions until you answer theirs. You can do this in two ways. Either just keep repeating your question when they repeat theirs, or say “I’ll happily answer once you answer my question.” Another way you can do this is by asking “what do I get for answering your question?”
Third you can use the shame and social pressure technique. People are effected by what society thinks of them. If they don’t cooperate, reframe their behavior. Essentially you are name calling them until they comply and answer. If you want to understand the psychology of insults and what makes a powerful insult, check out this article. For example you might say “you really struggle staying focused long enough to answer a question,” or more intensely “you aren’t smart enough to answer the question, are you?” Remember the best insults target a social or personal value, and argue that the person doesn’t have this value. It is best if people already believe this person acts that way.
Finally you can use the unanswered question technique. This method draws on how humans want to control the way society sees them. You will use a statement-question to frame someone with an undesirable trait. For example, “I can’t help but wonder what you are hiding right now,” or “what do you have to lose by answering this question?” These question-statements imply that the person isn’t answering because they are hiding something embarrassing. If done correctly this will make people start to speculate about why the person isn’t answering. Sometimes creative brains can come up with worse explanations for why someone won’t answer then the real reason.