How to Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently

Put on the spot to answer a hard and disturbing question? Afraid of looking dumb? Don't worry – use these tactics to buy yourself an escape route whether you're at home, in conversation at a bar, performing in a scholarly debate, or squirming in class.


  1. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 1
    Understand what is meant by a "hard and disturbing question". For the purposes of this article, it is assumed that such questions involve personal beliefs, or controversial/challenging topics. For example, questions about: Your sexuality, your involvement in something potentially illegal, your faith, your political beliefs, your understanding of something you are allegedly expert at, your knowledge of someone's infidelities, etc. Basically, it's a penetrating question that disturbs, worries, upsets, or flummoxes you and you don't want to appear on the back foot.
  2. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 2
    Don't answer. This is your number one defense reaction. Provide time-buying responses such as:
    • That's an interesting question. I'll have to think that one over.
    • I've never thought about it like that before. Give me some time to get back to you on it.
    • I'd need the facts first. I'll do some research and let you know later.
    • Well, that's an interesting question. I'd like to answer it but I don't have enough time right now. Can we pick up this thread next time maybe?
  3. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 3
    Flip the question back to the questioner. Another stalling device is to return the question to the questioner. Ways of doing this include:
    • Why do you want to know?
    • I don't know quite how to frame my response. What do you think first?
    • Well, what would you think in that situation?
    • Clearly you have an answer/idea; perhaps you'd care to elaborate on that?
  4. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 4
    Delay. Use silence as a way to give yourself thinking time. Reassure the questioner that you're listening by nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using filler comments such as "Yes, interesting point..." and staying silent for a moment while you think about it.
  5. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 5
    Answer gradually. Don't give out all of the answer straight up; instead mete out your response and make it clear that if more information is required, you will consider entering into a mutual discussion about the matter, provided that the questioner is being genuine and also offers to give their opinions and feelings on the matter. Examples:
    • Yes, I did do that at 3am but I'm not sure what you're getting at. Are you prepared to elaborate on what it is you really want to know? If so, maybe I can help you more.
    • That isn't something I'm aware of but perhaps there is something else I can help you with? I do know the Cotswold area well but I am not sure why you are interested in my local knowledge?
  6. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 6
    Refuse to answer. As politely as possible, while maintaining eye contact and smiling, or at least not looking fierce, firmly assert that you won't be answering that question, thanks. If you feel that the question has crossed the boundaries of appropriateness or is too intimate, refusing to answer can be a proper option. You might say things like:
    • I appreciate your curiosity but I am not comfortable responding to that.
    • I mean no offense but it's really a case of my business being minded and I decline to answer.
    • No comment, sorry!
    • I'm grateful for your interest but I'm not up to talking about this matter with others who were not involved.
    • That's way too personal a question. I'm sorry but I just don't feel right sharing that information with you.
    • I'm sorry but asking me that makes me feel unduly pressured. Please don't ask that of me again.
    • I'm not in the habit of answering questions that are so incredibly personal. Perhaps you might like to rephrase the question to make it less confronting?
  7. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 7
    Use humor. This is a deflecting manner of responding to a question. Humor can be used to avoid answering a question by making a lighthearted quip or a self-deprecating joke. Humor can also be put to good use to answer the question in a lighthearted manner that pushes aside the disturbing and hard elements of the question. If you want to use this method, you need to be confident with using humor and that isn't easy.
  8. Image titled Answer Hard and Disturbing Questions Intelligently Step 8
    Answer it intelligently. If the question isn't problematic, it isn't too personal or grueling, and you know the answer, why not launch into answering it? If you have any sense that the person has tried to outdo you in any way, this is always a super fun way to respond in kind! Keep it light and factual and if you're debating, make it interesting too.


  • If you feel that the questions are aimed to derail, upset, or outwit you, there is no harm in making your feelings clear. If someone is used to using questions as a means for eliciting information, they may simply forget their manners and overstep the boundaries of polite communications. In this case, you have every right to pull them up on their intimidating questioning and point out that there are better ways to go about seeking information.


  • In some contexts, angry, irate, and irrational people can be incensed by a refusal to answer, no matter how sensible and right your response. It is important to remain assertive and not aggressive in your response. If you have any sense that there might be a possibility of harm arising from the questioning, remove yourself from the situation immediately and seek help or refuge. This is especially important in the case of somebody who behaves violently or is impacted by alcohol or drugs and reasoning cannot get through to them.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills