How to Politely Defuse Probing Questions & Comments

by Beth Burgess

Some people just never stop asking questions. Whether out of pure curiosity or to feed an ulterior motive, people can sometimes confound us with the impudence of questions they ask and the level of detail they expect in our answers. When faced with what appears to be the Spanish Inquisition, we can often feel like we are under attack. It is sometimes difficult to find a polite way to defuse questions or to ignore comments, but it can be done.

Keep your cool. People who are impolite enough to ask very intimate questions are sometimes looking for a reaction, so don't bite. Remain calm and in control, so that you can steer the conversation the way you would prefer it to go.

Meet a question with a question. The person who retains control of a conversation is the person who asks the most questions. A great question to ask to counter any probing question is: "Why would you ask that?" Remember to keep a curious and neutral tone. You are then forcing the other person to justify his own reasons for asking the original question.

Ask another question. Remember, the more questions you ask, the greater control you have over the conversation. Base your next question on the response to the previous question. If you asked "Why would you ask that?" the person might reply, "I just wondered" or "I'm curious." Your next question could be "Are you always curious?" In general, the more closed questions you ask -- those that require either a "yes or "no" response -- the quicker you will bring the conversation to an end. Continue responding to their responses with more questions until he tires of it.

Repeat yourself. If the questioner manages to return to the original question, simply close him down again by repeating your original question, "Why would you ask that?" Eventually he should become tired of going round in circles with you and will either give up or reveal the real reason for the question. If he does give a valid reason for asking the question, you can finish the conversation easily by politely stating: "While I appreciate that you want to know, I'm not comfortable discussing that."

Use the silent gaze. If the questioner is really persistent or begins to make personal comments, it is often effective to respond with a calm and silent look. Keep your head straight, look him in the eyes and simply hold his gaze for at least four seconds. Maintaining solid eye contact indicates dominance, confidence and awareness. It suggests a level of scrutiny, so it also invites the person being looked at to be more honest and open about his communication or to back down.


  • Keeping your head straight during a difficult conversation implies neutrality. Keep your body posture open, with hands and shoulders loose to indicate that you have nothing to hide and are not being defensive or antagonistic.


  • Some non-Western cultures can view prolonged eye contact as a threat, a sign of disrespect or even a sexual invitation, so be aware of any cultural issues before using the silent gaze.

About the Author

Beth Burgess is a health and happiness expert. Burgess works as a therapist, specializing in addiction, anxiety, stress and mental well-being. Author of "The Recovery Formula" and "The Happy Addict," she writes articles to help others achieve happy lives and healthy relationships.

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