How to Handle People Who Mask Ignorance by Taking Over the Conversation

Being tasked to answer questions is a more vulnerable position than asking them.

For varying reasons, there are some who enjoy taking over conversations by releasing a stream of questions our way. They’ll start with one, which you’ll answer, and then keep following up. Soon enough, you’ll realize yourself to be participating in an interview rather than a conversation. In such situations, individuals you were previously in conversation with place themselves in a position of control by assuming the interviewer role.

The principal mistake these socially dominant people make is to focus on the people they’re speaking with to the extent that it backfires on their likability. Being interviewed to the point of discomfort is seldom a pleasant social experience. Those who try hard to shape conversations to only be about their subjects come off as overbearing and exploitative in their line of inquiry.

This article is about navigating the specific situation of being in conversation with an inquisitively overbearing counterpart.


Possible Reasons for This Behavior

People seem to incorrectly interpret, then action, their desire to lead conversations. They may watch videos online about tips they can quickly employ, only to fall victim to making more mistakes than corrections to their existing communicative ways.

Authentically focusing on what your counterpart has to say in a conversation is a fundamental law of possessing adequate social skills. The individuals who take this notion too far are the ones who obviously make every point of conversation to revolve around you (the person they’re speaking with) and your interests.

Their interest in interests of your own will seem inauthentic and ironically selfish.

More nefarious reasons can be present too. Those who feel inadequate in knowledge compared to you may assume the interviewer role as well. They’d do so not as a devout student of your craft, but as an attempt to make you do the talking while they hide their lack of knowledge behind a veil of asking the questions. Either way, they’ll be masking ignorance with an attempt to dominate the conversation.

As you scramble to answer all the questions they flood you with, you’d be vulnerable in your presentation of what you know. All the while, they’ll hide their incapacity to compete in dialogue by posing as the one who controls where the conversation goes and which topics should be discussed.


If Their Naivety Is Shining Through Their Questions, Exacerbate It by Being Detailed

The two goals you’d have in dealing with overbearing individuals who use a series of questions to feel a sense of power over you will be to:
Remain in control and not be bullied into social vulnerability.
Dissuade the stream of questions by inducing a lack of confidence in the interviewer.

Individuals seeking for a perceived sense of control over a conversation commonly have something they’d be distracting from. Akin to a magician who desperately tells you to look at their right hand while their left takes the necessary steps for a trick to play out, people desperate to lead conversations seem to fear where those conversations might veer off to if they don’t control the direction.

For example, a common scenario of such a line of questioning is when habitual watchers of football invite a friend to watch the game with them. People who feel out of their element discussing sports seem to find it attractive to repeat talking points they’ve heard in passing, and confidently ask questions with those obvious talking points infused.

Their naivety about the sport in question is painfully obvious to the experienced fans, but their strategy of assimilating with the crowd wouldn’t take that obviousness into account.

A first strategy in defending against people whose naivety encourages them to control a conversation rather than sit back and listen, is to further intimidate them with detailed answers to their questions. An impressively detailed answer to a confident question backed by ignorance will place the interviewer in an uncomfortable situation.

Since a line of questioning typically builds on the answers it produces, you’d pressure those asking all the questions to infuse details they’re not familiar with into their questions. If their follow up questions remain shallow and simple, their incapacity to continue the dialogue on your level will become evident. They’d lose their status of being the director of the conversation, since they’d be forced to take on the student role.

Being impressively detailed in your answers to naive questions which serve as tools to control the conversation will thereby:
Prevent you from being bullied into a state of vulnerability.
Discourage the interviewer from continuing with their stream of shallow questions.


Question Them on Dependencies to Your Answers (“Have You Seen?” “Have You Read?”)

A second strategy you can employ against those who mask their lack of knowledge and experience with a controlling grasp of a conversation is to introduce dependencies to your answers.

For instance, if you are asked a question on tonight’s basketball game, referencing a particular team’s match-up from last week can illuminate the interviewer’s naivety about the subject they introduced. Their attempts to fake a confident tone whilst asking you a question can be exposed by simply questioning them on a dependency to your answer.

Their admission to being unaware of an obvious dependency to an answer they seek from you will discourage them from continuing on with a confident, but shallow, line of questioning.


Don’t Move On Until You’re Finished With a Specific Topic

People looking to attain an authoritative grasp of the conversations you have with them will focus on setting the pace. A conversation is dominated in large part by the individual who solely elects when it’s time to move on to a different topic.

You’ll distinguish the domineering individuals from the authentically curious by the speed and ease with which they switch topics. Those looking for control over the conversation while placing themselves in an authoritative social position will switch topics at whim.

They’ll ask questions as if they’re interested in hearing a thought out answer only to switch topics with a new question fast enough to signal there to have been little interest in the first place.

This habit of switching topics with a line up of quickfire questions is a major reason why speaking with such individuals is exhausting. They’ll challenge your abilities and know-how, you’ll attempt to prove yourself in the face of their line of questions, only for them to move on without satisfactorily acknowledging your input.

To them, it’s about control, not knowledge. The legitimacy of your answers to their line of questions is secondary to the fact that you’re the one answering and they’re the one asking. By keeping you in the vulnerable state of needing to answer all their questions, they’ll view the conversation as a success from their end.

It’s thereby important to only move on from a particular question of theirs when you deem it to be appropriate. If they’ve asked you a question about your interest in Formula 1 racing for instance, take it as an invitation to drag them into your world. Rather than being satisfied with a shallow glossing over of the topic, line up a series of facts and questions for them to ponder too. Ask them if they’ve ever seen a race live, and whether they know any popular drivers.

If they try to move on from the topic, don’t get dragged along. If you feel that you’ve not finished expressing your thoughts, bring the conversation back to what you want to discuss for the time being.

You can exclaim a simple, “Wait wait, but have you ever…” in an effort to combat their quick attempts to shift topics. Though this may be a bit of a stubborn response to someone’s seemingly endless and shallow line of questioning, it’ll do well to break their flow of constantly seeking control over their selection of possible topics to discuss.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.