The Art Of Answering Questions Fully

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Pre-phrasing the answer – use a part of the question in the answer

Example question: Is there an experience that shaped your life? Example answer: The experience that shaped my life is ____.

It may seem silly, but it’s a great tip to get full answers.  Let’s put it in perspective – it’s not someone else’s job to understand how awesome we or our kids are.

Students can give a one-word answer to the example question. Needless to say, not only does the student not share his story fully, but it’s hard to engage or be excited for him/her, when he/she is not excited about his own future. In an interview setting, pre-phrasing the answer gives the interviewee a few more seconds to think about the answer. At its best, it reinforces and reminds the student what the question is so he/she can answer it fully.

Here are some tips on how to practice this skill:

  • Model the behavior.  
    When asked: “Mom, how did the meeting go?” skip the “Fine.” and dive into some analysis with them.  Tell them the good, bad or ugly. Tell them why each one was so and what you learned from it.
  • Don’t let them off the hook.
    Teenagers may not be the keenest people to share, and most parents would say it’s obvious that we need to know what our kids are doing for their safety. When your teenager avoids answering a question, take a moment to reflect what could be the reasons. Then, explain so they understand: “It’s my job to ask and know. I don’t want to stress you out and I also don’t want to nag, so it would be a lot faster and better for both of us, if you just answer.” Remember to respect each other’s boundaries though. This is a rich topic, but the point is – just because they may never feel like having a conversation, doesn’t mean their wish will come true.
  • Practice interviewing. 
    Have your teenager interview you with the same sample questions they will be asked on essays or interviews. Take this seriously and take the opportunity to be vulnerable and show you too are human, may have made mistakes and certainly learned from your life. There is nothing more empowering to a child than knowing that their parents are not perfect, and they shouldn’t try to be either.
    If you have a particularly difficult time connecting, ask for a smaller time commitment (5-mins!), focus on 1-2 questions at a time and pick questions which have no chance to fire back like: “What is your favorite class and why?” or “If you could travel anywhere, where would you want to go and why?” or “If you could be anything (and grades/GPA/test scores are out of the picture), what would you want to be/do…and why?”
  • Listen. 
    People like being listened to, especially when they give long answers. But also, in an interview setting, active listening leads to follow up questions. Regardless if you are doing role-play and your daughter/son is the interviewer or the interviewee, you both need to be actively listening (hide electronics for this precious time).

”When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama XIV

Share with us. Let us know what works for you and how you have helped your teenager. Would love to hear your takeaways, challenges and successes (congrats!).


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