Key 49. You are not obliged to answer some questions.

A salesperson will ask you how you are going because a polite greeting can lead to a conversation with you – about their product. For them, politeness is a sales tool, not an expression of warmth.

We know that, yet many of us answer politely anyway, because we are taught to be polite. We go along with their manipulation for fear of appearing impolite.

Would we put our head in the mouth of a lion, in case the lion might feel rejected?

We seem to think it is more important to be polite than it is to preserve the sanctity of a warm and genuine greeting. That’s a concern, because it means we knowingly avoid acting sensibly in order to be appear to be a good person.

I know the example given is not a big deal, but it does indicate a propensity toknowingly participate with the others in their efforts to manipulate us. We were taught to answer questions, and we learned the lesson well.

Freeing ourselves from the habit will gain us powerful tool: the balance of power reverts to us. We can take charge of the conversation. When we can resist the pressure to answer a person’s questions we move towards what needs to happen. By not allowing ourselves to be manipulated we honour ourselves, we protect ourselves, and we cling tightly to the mast.

I am not suggesting we avoid answering everyone’s questions. Nor am I suggesting that we be rude. (After all, being assertive means being respectful.) I am suggesting that when someone asks us a question we can remind ourselves that we are not obliged to answer that question.

When someone we don’t know rings and asks if we have had a good day we can ignore the question and politely ask the caller: ‘How can I help you?’ That brief response tells the caller:
– we will not be manipulated; instead we want directness and honesty.
– we are willing to remain courteous, but not on their terms.

The above is just an example. There are many instances in which people ask us questions because they are a powerful tool in their favour. Our job is to remind ourselves that we don’t have to answer questions. ‘Thou Shalt Answer All Questions Posed To Thee’was not one of the Ten Commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. As soon as we ‘get that’ we have another strong assertiveness skill at our disposal.

Example 1:

Telemarketer: ‘How are you today?’

You: ‘How can I help you?’  (Good, you have refrained from answering their question, and you are already taking charge.)
Telemarketer: ‘Have you had a good day?’

You: ‘Yes thank you, but . . .’  Wrong. You don’t have to answer their question. Just repeat,
You: ‘How can I help you?’

Telemarketer: ‘Does your telephone bill eat into your budget?’

You: ‘I’m not interested.’ (That’s good. You haven’t answered their question. Instead, you have immediately moved to what needs to happen: to let them know you’re not interested.)
Telemarketer: ‘But wouldn’t you like to halve your phone bill?’

You: ‘Of course, but I’m not interested.’ Incorrect. You are not obliged to answer the question and it’s best for you that you don’t. For a start, it helps you get into the habit of remembering that you’re not obliged to answer questions. Besides, there is a chance an experienced caller will latch onto your answer and modify their spiel to suit. Try instead:

You: ‘No, I’m not interested.’ Incorrect, because you answered the question. Try:
You: ‘I’m not interested.’  (Good.)

In real life I suggest you end the call immediately, because if you talk to them they might keep your telephone number and use it again, and sell it to other organisations. You might be besieged by callers.

Example 2:

Let’s look at examples seen in earlier tips.

Ben: ‘Why won’t you lend me $20?’

You: ‘The answer is no.’ Again, you have refused to answer Ben’s question and avoided a debate


Ann: ‘Your refusal to help cuts me. Why won’t you help me?’

You: ‘I understand that you feel hurt, but I won’t be helping you.’ (Good, you have acknowledged Ann’s distress and refrained from answering her question. You have kept the focus on your stance.)

Sue: ‘Can you help me with my homework, please?’

You: ‘I have other plans.’ 
Sue: ‘What other plans?’

You: ‘Instead of asking me about my plans, how about finding a solution to your problem?’ (Good answer. Instead of answering her question you have held your ground.)

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