This is the word to use when evasion is achieved by clouding the issue.
Creating a smoke-screen.
prevaricate, evade, dodge
“When shrouded meanings and grim intentions are nicely polished up and pokerfaced personae are generously palming off their fantasy constructs, caution is the watchword, since rimpling water on the well of truth swiftly obscures our vision and perception.
(“Trompe le pied/wrong foot.”)”
So. There is possibly nothing more aggravating in business than someone not answering “the” question. To be clear on what I am speaking about. The person answers a question just not the one you asked.
I am not going to argue that some questions are not easy to answer. I won’t even argue that we get asked questions we don’t know the answers to but the situation dictates we make something up <yes … that happens in business>. But abandoning the question completely is complete bullshit.
But you know what?
I think the main reason it is so aggravating is because it is truly a reflection of intentions. There is even a book called The Anthropology of Intentions by a professor, Alessandro Duranti, who kind of tackles this whole discussion of intentions & words. He offers us the thought of ‘intentional discourse’ wherein an individual filters words through their beliefs & desires and their plans & goals to guide the discourse <regardless of whether the rest of the people want it guided that way>. In other words, using another phrase he offers us, by engaging in an intentional continuum people ponder their use of words through self-interest motivations <some good & some bad>.
By the way … I am fairly sure I mangled his academic masterpiece but you get the point.
Ah. “You get the point.” I share that again because while we sit there aggravated at someone who completely avoided answering the question asked we almost always also sit there wanting to invest a little of our own energy trying to assess why they did it. Because, in our aggravated minds, in its most simplistic viewing, avoiding the question is solely about shifting attention – away from something and toward something else.
Sure. It could be something as simple as steering you away from their lack of knowledge and steering you toward something they may actually know. But, in most cases, a full abandonment of a specific question is complete & utter deflection.
In the intelligence community they call this effort to shift attention as deflection or misdirection. Magicians do something similar getting people to focus on one thing and away from the trick itself. Completely avoiding the question is the business version of a distract-the-audience approach. It is this weird moment in which someone pretends to answer the question by actually answering some other question that magically appeared to replace the question really asked. It’s almost like entering an alternative universe for a while.
Sadly. Aggravated or not … the more practiced the deception <the more practiced the business magician is> the more likely you hesitate to step in <and the more you get aggravated as you hesitate> and correspondingly … the more many of these people actually believe deception works.
It is maddening.
Worse? If they are good at it, when someone responds to a question by not addressing the points of the question, thereby avoiding the issue itself, it doesn’t create unrelated discussion to the issue … it simply avoids the issue in totality.
Well. I am fairly sure we have all sat there in a meeting and watched something like this unfolding right before our eyes. The visceral response, the aggravation, we have to this ‘answer evasion’ situation is most likely found in the revelation it is occurring (watching it unfold before our eyes). Philosophically, we can see that through some internal conviction to retain something they feel like they should own <their reputation, their title, their perceived intelligence, their whatever> they justify evading the question.
Conviction. Yeah. I just used ‘internal conviction.’ This means their intentions reflect they are more important than not only the question itself … but you. You are not even dignified with an answer.
It is irksome <at its least worst>.
It is loathsome <at its most worst>.
Look. I give a partial pass to the asshats you can see who have some answer they want to give everyone, regardless of what question is asked, and blurt it out when given the opportunity. They haven’t deflected the question they just ignored it as unimportant to what they want to say and have been planning to say no matter what has been said up to that point. It’s the ones you know heard the question and just ignored it. Or avoided it. Or just didn’t answer it despite the fact they heard every word, every syllable and every intention from the question giver.
In other words, they intentionally do not answer the question.
<envision a deep sigh here>
How do I know that? These are the same people who will attack, or ‘aggressively question’, the intentions of the question giver themselves. It is a common tactic for the answer avoiders. The natural instinct is to ‘defend’ … to answer the attack. Fuck that. I want to say … “just answer the fucking question asked.”
How else do I know these people are quite capable of taking questions head on? These are the same people who will attack, or ‘aggressively question’, the question itself. This is not a deflection tactic. This is a ‘turn the question back on itself’ tactic. And, once again, your natural instinct is to defend or, well, answer the question you are asked. Aggravating. I want to say … “just answer the fucking question asked, you shithead.”
And maybe what makes this ‘not answering the question asked’ so maddening is that we, most sane pragmatic business people, tend to sit back <after saying “WTF”> and try and unravel why it happened and what the hell just happened. Unless you are in an interview scenario <in which you always have an opportunity, one-to-one, to hunker down and hammer out a clear answer> you are most likely in a room with other people and the non-answer has sent at least some of the people careening down a completely different road.
That makes it even MORE aggravating.
One intentional non answer to a question can completely derail a meeting or a discussion. That is intentional discourse. Or how about the other phrase from that academic’s book … engaging in an intentional continuum.
Oh. One last way you know these asshats are intentionally not answering the question is when they cleverly decline to answer the question with the infamous head fake answer … “I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ll work on finding the information for you and then get back to you with an answer” <and they have no intention of ever getting back to you>.
Yeah. You know … sure as shit … they have no plans to work on it and will never ‘get back to you’ unless you call them on it. They are intentionally refusing to answer the question assuming the conversation will move on and, in a laundry list of other shit to do, that this one will either never make the list or be so low on the list they can stiff arm you on answering based on “working on things more important.”
Its bullshit. You know its bullshit. They know its bullshit.
Fuck you and the non-answering horse you rode in on.
In my mind a good well-articulated question demands some accountability. The one given the question is now accountable for the answer. They may try and deflect and they may just answer a completely different question … but a question asked exists … it does not disappear. You cannot get away from it.
Let me share a graphic example of why accountability remains whether the question dodger likes it or not.
You open your front door in the morning and there is a nice pile of dog poop squarely in the middle of your front door opening. You either clean it up or you avoid it. The question dodger never acknowledges the pile and steps over it moving on to something else. The shit stays at the front door and over time the smell increases and the flies crowd around. A good question unanswered is just like that. And a question dodger cannot avoid the smell in the end.
All that said. My message to the asshats who completely do not answer the question asked: You will be accountable to the question and to cleaning up the mess … now … or later <and quit aggravating me by not answering the question, you shithead>.
Some ‘fucks’ and ‘asshats’.
I left it as is because as a 50something business guy who has always attempted to take on what needs to be taken on regardless of how painful t may have been <and career wise possibly less than prudent> I get a little angry about how the business world has become incredibly unkind to the risk takers & truth tellers and seems to reward the less-than-competent and ‘political maneuverers’ more often than it should. That’s my excuse for why I let this one stand as it does.