‘Innocent’ Questions

How do you answer those questions that well meaning people ask you that really make you uncomfortable?

You know the kind of questions I mean.  Recent graduates get asked, “Do you have a job yet?”  Someone who has been downsized might hear, “How is your job search going?”  People in new professional service businesses get, “How many clients do you have?”  and new business owners are asked, “Are you making any money doing that?”

Answering these questions can be challenging.  Recently I talked to a prospective client who had been asked how his job search was going.  He told me he felt as though he wasn’t even doing a job search yet.  He just needed the time to think about what he wanted to do.  He didn’t want to share his uncertainty with the questioner who was a family member but he also did not want to be rude.

How do you answer these and other potentially embarrassing questions without compromising your integrity?  One thing that always amuses me is the way politicians answer a question that isn’t to their liking.  They just answer a question they wanted you to ask that may be half related to the question that was asked.  If the answer is long winded enough maybe the questioner forgets what he/she has asked originally.  That works for some politicians and maybe you too but it wouldn’t work for me.

So what do you do to answer a question that you really do not want to answer?  I think you need to be truthful in a kind way.  If you know that at some later time you may really want to talk to this person about the subject then say just that.  “This isn’t a particularly good time to talk about that but as soon as I can I’ll give you an update.  I really value your opinion.”

Some questions you know you will never want to answer.  Unless you have a public company the numbers associated with your business are private and do not have to be shared with anyone except your accountant or tax professional (in the US).  If someone asks you a question of that sort they have crossed a boundary and you will want to let them know it without sounding angry.  Statements such as “I focus on my bottom line not on numbers of clients.” or  “I am in business to make money.” give a partial answer to their questions on numbers of clients and making money. If that does not satisfy them then a full answer would be “The only people I talk about my business’ finances with are my accountant and bookkeeper.”

It’s easy to be critical of the person asking these types of questions but I have found myself asking them too.  Often times we care very much about the success of our friends and family.  We want to help in any way we can.  How’s the job search going? How’s your business doing? Got an interview this week? seem innocent enough but they can be painful.  These are tough times and many people have been out of work for a while.  It takes time to establish a new business.  Perhaps a better question to ask someone you care about is, “How can I support you to get what you want?”

Take Action

1.   What are the questions that make you cringe?  Create a few possible answers for them and practice them out loud.

2.   Watch your interactions with friends and acquaintances.  What questions do you ask that may make them uncomfortable?  What could you ask that would be more supportive?

3.   Make a list of interesting questions you can ask someone you are talking to that would be helpful but not intrusive.

4. Need help with a job search or new business?  Hire a coach to stay focused.

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