Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Questions are the Worst


You’re glancing through a menu, feeling overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Somehow, you manage to narrow down your choices to two (or maybe three), which means you must now face the hardest part – actually choosing one. You ask yourself, “which one am I most in the mood for?”. Of course, if you knew what you were in the mood for, you would have already made your choice. Maybe this wasn’t the best question to ask.

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MenuComing to this realization, you shift gears and look more closely at the options. What do they each come with? Right around this time, you realize everyone else has closed their menus. The time to decide is now; so, naturally, you don’t. Instead, you figure out the details for each of the options and plan on choosing whichever one you blurt out first.

Side Salad

The waitress turns to you with a smile, and you know the moment has come. Your mind kindly provides you with one of the options, and you calmly say it out loud. You smoothly finish off the rest of your order before she even gets the chance to ask about side dishes, how you want your meat cooked, etc.

You smile, relishing how smoothly that went, when you suddenly realize the waitress is still looking at you. Words are coming out of her mouth, but you can’t seem to understand them; they sound garbled and alien. As you blankly stare at her, she begins listing off ethnicities. No, wait, that can’t be right. They’re salad dressings. Panicking, you blurt out whichever option you can remember her saying. How could you forget that your side salad would require dressing? You thought you were so prepared. What happened?

You Like Being Prepared

If the above scenario is one you’re familiar with, then you’re probably a somewhat indecisive (and possibly anxious) individual. You’re capable of making decisions, but it takes you a little longer than it does for others. Because of this, you like to be well prepared before doing or saying certain things. This could range from placing an order to answering a question during a meeting or in class. You like knowing exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. You don’t like follow-up questions.

You’re well aware of the importance of being prepared. Experience has shown you how easily you lose track of what you’re trying to say. Not to mention all the times you’ve changed your mind halfway through a thought and started arguing with yourself. Preparation saves you from all of that. It makes you confident and unconcerned. At least, that is, until someone asks you a follow-up question.


Be PreparedMany follow-up questions are, unfortunately, rather difficult to prepare for. Some are more easily tackled than others, but they still usually catch you off guard. You either blurt something out or end up stumbling your way through an answer while hastily trying to make up your mind. Either way, you’re usually dissatisfied with the experience, even if everything turned out all right in the end.

Follow-up Questions Don’t Have to be Scary

Follow-up questions may be intimidating, but they’re a big part of life. Anytime you speak with another person you risk running into them, so what can you do? As much as you might want to, you can’t avoid them all the time. Nor can you plan for every possible scenario. You could try, but is that really how you want to live your life? Wouldn’t you prefer to not worry about it constantly?

When you’re asked a question (be it initial or follow-up), take a moment to breathe. This will hopefully keep you from mumbling the first thing that comes to mind. Contrary to what you may believe, questions don’t have to be answered immediately; you can take a few moments to gather your thoughts. If you must say something, simply tell the person you’re responding to that you need a moment to think. It’s doubtful they’ll get upset with you.

Now, if you’re in a situation where you must answer immediately and don’t have time to think, it’s harder to remain calm. However, it’s not impossible. Bear in mind you still have a few seconds before you’re required to start speaking. These seconds might feel as though they last forever, but it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Realistically, the time was probably so short that it went completely unnoticed.Answers

The trickiest part is stopping yourself from changing trains of thought halfway through your answer. It takes some serious focus, but it’s definitely doable. If possible, keep your eyes focused on the person. This helps you avoid most outside distractions. As for the distractions in your mind, you’ll find that your best option is to acknowledge them but don’t say them out loud. Most of the time, these thoughts are fleeting. Acknowledging them will allow you to move on from one to the next, giving you an opportunity to cast them from your mind. Ignoring them, however, usually causes them to come back in even greater force.

Best of Luck

Overcoming a fear of follow-up questions doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, you might never overcome it. Don’t let this deter you from trying, though. Even if it doesn’t go away entirely, you might be able to at least quell it slightly. With a little hard work and determination, you may find yourself answering questions like a pro someday. If you do continue to struggle with follow-up questions (or any other type of question), keep working at it and know you’re not alone.

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