The human mind is extremely curious. It is always on the lookout for answers to several unanswered questions. This is why many philosophers have tried to find the answers to several difficult questions that have been raised by mankind to help quench our thirst for curiosity and explore new avenues. But when it comes to giving answers, there isn’t any hard and fast rule, is there? Does answering a question with a question still count as an answer?
Answering a question with a question is a subjective way of giving answers. There are several factors that influence this subjective tendency. It could depend on the type of question that is being asked, the person who is asking the question, the way we feel about the question that is being asked, and many other factors alike. But what does it mean when someone answers a question with a question?
This is a pretty common way of answering among many of us. Of course, this method of answering questions also has a lot of variations. In hindsight, it may seem rude or offensive to give a response to a question by raising another question, but that is not necessarily true all the time.
This phenomenon is commonly known as evasion. Evasion is when a person tries to avoid a particular person, question, or topic by changing the course of direction of the question in such a way that the person arrives at an incorrect conclusion or in a way that steers them off track.
- Nature of the person asking the question:
For starters, like mentioned above, this response could be a result of the person asking the question. Our responses largely depend on the person asking us the question and the kind of question that we are being asked. If we are being asked a question by someone that we do not trust, chances are, we will not give them an honest answer and will try to deviate them off course.
For example, if someone we barely know comes up to us and asks us for some kind of personal information, then we would obviously counter-question them. For instance, when someone asks us, “Where do you live?” our answer would most likely be “Why do you want to know?” This does seem like an appropriate response considering the circumstances. But sometimes, it could also be because we do not necessarily like that person. Let’s take, for instance, you are in a fight with a coworker and you are holding a grudge against them. This usually drives you to dislike them. If that same person tries to be nice to you and stir up small talk such as, “How was your weekend?” and if you are still displeased with them, your answer might come off rude like, “Why do you care?” or some other rude comment.
- Nature of the question being asked:
Just like how our answer depends on the person asking the question, it can also depend on the type of question that is being asked. It could be because the topic under which the question is being asked could be one that the recipient is not comfortable talking about. So they could try answering a question with a question in order to buy themselves some time and come up with an answer. This could exhibit a nervous behavior from the side of the recipient and is generally used as a defense mechanism.
They might also do this in order to avoid confrontation or a problematic question. But again, this is not true all the time. Sometimes people may do this in order to get some further clarification on the question asked or if they did not understand the nature of the question. This is seen when we are either asked to repeat the question or when we are asked questions that probe clarifications.
- Nature of the person answering the question:
The above two paragraphs spoke about the person asking the question and the type of question that is being asked which influences the kind of answer we give. However, it also depends on the nature of the person to whom the question is being asked and what they intend to do with the answer. Sometimes people answer back with a question in order to sound smart and intelligent. This way of answering reflects a superior attitude in a way that it puts down the person asking the question and makes them feel stupid and invalidated.
For example, someone asks “Where is Finland located?” and the person answers saying “You don’t know even that?” This makes the person asking the question feel dull-witted. Another reason that people do this is to sound sarcastic, which is an extension of the previous point made. This is just another way in which the recipient tries to make the other person feel bad. For instance when someone asks, “How did you come to work today?” and the person answers “How do you think I came?” Sometimes, this can reflect a condescending attitude and make the person seem like a narcissist.
Positive aspects to answering a question with a question:
Life isn’t always bad, right? The same applies to this article. This way of replying does not always imply a negative kind of response. Believe it or not, this actually has some perks. If you approach a mentor or a superior and ask them a work-related or knowledge-related question, chances are that they would not give us a straight answer. This is not because they do not want to give us an answer or that they want to undermine us. No, by not giving us a straight answer, they are helping us expand our minds to search for the answer by ourselves. When we are given the answer to a question right away, it may not retain in our heads as long as the information we earned by learning. This helps us think deeper and find an answer on our own.
While being mentored in the right direction; not only will we remember things longer, but this also helps us understand things better. This enables us to acquire the skills needed to figure out solutions in the future without any guidance and also helps us develop the motivation to do so.
This kind of learning is an example of the Socratic Method. It is the kind of learning method which uses critical thinking to arrive at solutions. It relies on a cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals to guide them into the right answer. This means, there is an exchange of dialogue between two individuals where one of them is usually a mentor or a person trying to guide the other person. They prompt a conversation in such a way that it leads the mentee in a direction towards the right answer. But this is done in such a way that the mentee realizes it on their own so that they learn and remember better. This kind of learning is proved to be very effective in the past.
Apart from these groupings, there are other common reasons as to why people answer this certain way. These include:
- Sometimes, people do not like it when other people disagree with them. It might make them feel wrong and out of place. So they counter-question our question to avoid that kind of situation and make us answer it instead of them.
- Another reason could be that people do not want to handle the responsibility of answering a question, particularly if the question carries some kind of importance. Thus they reply with a question in a way that the ball is back in the other person’s court. This makes them feel like they dodged a bullet.
- This method can also be used to get an insight into what the other person is thinking and help us prepare for an answer. For example, “What did you think about the parliament elections?” and we answer “Why, what did you think?” In this way, we get an idea about what the other person thinks, and helps us arrive at an answer in such a way that supports their views in order to avoid a clash of interest.
- In the same way, it can also be useful to help us check whether our existing answers are synchronized with that of the person asking the question.
With the help of this article, we were able to understand the depth and inner meaning of the answers that people give to help us figure out the mood, intention, and hostility of people. The human mind is a complex system and can be tricky to understand, but we hope this article eased that a little. So to answer the question that was posed in the title; yes, this way of answering validates as an answer as much as any other type of answer.