Questions buy time – advice for my daughters

Questions buy time in a tense situation where you’re under verbal attack; a befundling question at a job interview or a scolding at work.

This moves the spotlight to the “attacker” and buys valuable time to think of an answer. However, every now and then you have to eat a few shots and roll with the punches, it’s important not to overuse this tactic. Otherwise this disarmament will be seen as a provocation.

Scolding at work

Boss: It is unacceptable to keep me involved, this is the second time something like this has happened. Why haven’t you involved me?
DD: I hear you’re upset, so before I answer I would like to know when this first started?
Boss: Well… The first time… I guess we haven’t talked about that. *de-escalated talk*

Inspired by true events.

My boss at that time was dealing with a lot of stress and often projected his flaws onto his employees.


Potential Boss’s Boss: *a few minutes talk of mission and values* Our values are important to us and we only want employees that can think on the spot. What’s 55 times 55?
DD: …I don’t do mental arithmetics. I have a phone with a calculator and a laptop with Excel open at all times. How do you use that here?
PBB: The power could be out. What’s 55 times 55?
DD: …I’m sure the battery could hold for this calculation.
*Back and forth discussion about accuracy, knowledge vs information, etc.*

Fairly accurate transcript minus descriptions of the awkward body language of the potential boss and HR-representative. Their facial expressions could best be described as an expected and reoccurring hostage situation.

It’s 3025. I was determined to not answer the question. First, because I’m not jumping through hoops and I handle pressure just fine. Secondly, I don’t do mental arithmetics. If I give an answer to something that’s easier to validate than to do mentally, I might as well do the sure thing right away. I was searching for the polite way of saying the question is irrelevant.

They offered me the job, although at a lower pay than I asked for. Irregardless I declined the offer, after all I already had a good job and was more flattered than interested in the approach.

Questions buy time

Finally if you open up and you’ll likely learn something new. This shows vulnerability which is not a bad thing and even if the information doesn’t reveal something new the delivery might.

Summarized; in these types of situations where a quick answer is needed or expected remember that questions buy time. Just keep them somewhat relevant.

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