Mastering the art of avoiding questions

Mel Byko

I am not stupid. No really, I swear. There are many topics on which I can hold a perfectly intelligent conversation. However, forget politics, geography and history. As a couple of my friends kindly explained, “You’re not stupid, but sometimes you’re just plain dumb.” Story of my life.

Somehow, I never obtained the “general knowledge” supposedly taught between preschool and fifth grade. This lack of common knowledge has served one purpose though: I am a master at avoiding questions or topics I know little about. With practice, you can employ these techniques to BS your way through any situation:

• Redirecting the Question: Begin by presenting background information pertaining to the question, creating the impression that you understand the topic. Just before you approach the answer, start stumbling over your words, as if your response is too complex to articulate. Backtrack a couple times, pause frequently, and conclude with an exasperated, “Oh, you know what I mean!” Surprisingly, if you employ this useful little phrase, people assume that you DO, in fact, know. Being considerate, the questioner will attempt to prompt your response by revealing part of the answer. Further prodding typically elicits the response the questioner expects to hear.

When others are present, you can also redirect the question to them. In fact, if they answer, repeat their response half a second later and it appears you’ve spoken simultaneously!

• Faking a “Brain Fart”: When facing a question that requires a one-word response, pause momentarily with your lips slightly parted in perplexity. Next, claim that you KNOW the word/name/place (who wouldn’t?!), but somehow it just slipped your mind. To emphasize this, express astonishment at your own stupidity by remarking, “Geez! I can’t believe I can’t remember such-and-such!” or, “It’s on the tip of my tongue!” Staring blankly at the questioner or shaking your head a few times in frustration also helps.

• Sudden Distraction: Use this method for desperate situations, or when the questioner is abnormally persistent. The key here is to avoid being too obvious. Pull out your phone and appear to answer a text mid-conversation – college students do this all the time, so it will not raise suspicion. Or, to make a quick escape, fake a call that you “just have to take.” Make sure to apologize fervently (obviously, you had every intention of answering), but walk away briskly to stress the importance of the call.

• Blame the Questioner: Should these techniques fail, you can always accuse the questioner of not being clear. After she discloses the answer, say something along the lines of, “Oh, I thought you were talking about…” and, if you don’t know what else you could have possibly thought, interrupt yourself: “…Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Carry on.” No one will guess the truth!

Mel Byko is a columnist for the Post at Ohio University.