How to Answer a Bad Question

Bad Question

How do you answer a bad question? You don’t. Well, that’s this blog all wrapped up. See you next time. All right, all right, I’ll go into details because bad and unfair questions seem to be standard operating procedure in social media and live debates. The thing we must determine is how to spot a bad question and how to not answer it properly, this is actually fairly difficult.

Let’s start with a question I see a lot in the sports world. Would the champion of yesteryear be able to compete against the best players of the game in the world today? This is a bad question but it, like many of its ilk, has the seeds of a very good and interesting question. That is the key to dealing with bad questions, figure out where the good question is hiding.

The problem with the aforementioned question is it doesn’t define the parameters in a way that lends itself to a good answer. The bad question is actually two different questions but not defined as such. What you must do in these situations is attempt to reword or clarify the parameters of the question so that it can be properly and usefully answered.

So, I say, to the person who asked the question: if you are asking me could the athlete of yesteryear compete today without the benefit of knowledge, training methods, diet, computer aids, and other advantages that today’s players enjoy; the answer is no. They’d be crushed. However, if you’re asking me if the player of old were born recently and had all the advantages of the modern athlete; my answer is yes, they might be able to compete although size, speed, and other physical differences can be a factor depending on the sport.

What we did there was clarify a bad question with two responses and turned it into two reasonable queries, both with useful answers, to create the seeds of a good discussion. This is what you must do when confronted with a bad question. You must look at the question and try to find clarification as to what is really being asked.

I fully admit, particularly in social media debates, the question was formed badly with malice and the questioner has a predetermined position that cannot be changed. Still, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Clarify the question, distill it down, and try to find an answer that is appropriate. If your fellow debater is unwilling to allow this, if they insist on answers to the badly worded or intended question without clarification, simply follow my original advice, don’t answer.

Refusing to answer a bad question is the best reply you can give.

Tom Liberman

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