How do you answer rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions: 25 examples - and their sub-messages

Who asks leads. Rhetoric is the ability of rhetoric and thus an effective stylistic device to direct a conversation, to manipulate it or to dominate the dialogue. Certain questions can do even more: Rhetorical questions can not only influence your counterpart, but also stimulate thought.

This can be done with the best of intentions - or not. After all, every rhetorical question always resonates with a sub-message. Many rhetorical questions are even more statements or assertions than questions. What constitutes rhetorical questions, what you should pay attention to and numerous examples of rhetorical questions and their messages ...

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Definition: what are rhetorical questions?

A certain questioning technique is called rhetorical questions and is one of the special stylistic devices within rhetoric. Main feature of the rhetorical questions: Unlike the usual questions, this is not about gaining new information, learning something or questioning it in the literal sense of the word. Rather, the focus is on influencing the interlocutor: rhetorical questions do not need a real answer, because they themselves are expressive. Either no meaningful answer is possible or the desired answer is already included in the rhetorical question itself (similar to a suggestive question - see box).

A typical example of a rhetorical question is: "Didn't I tell you right away?" The questioner is not interested in gaining information. Rather, he underlines his previous statement. The rhetorical question in this case is like “I knew I was right!”. You can therefore always recognize a rhetorical question by the fact that an informative answer is not possible or not desired at all. Often the only option left for the recipient of a rhetorical question is to agree to what has been said.

Rhetorical question versus leading question

Leading questions are similar to rhetorical questions in many respects: They are intentional and are intended to (subconsciously) influence and manipulate. The main difference to the rhetorical question, however, is: An answer is expected to a leading question - but the answer options are limited at the same time. Rather, the leading question usually assumes that there can only be one answer. Example: “Do you really want to miss this opportunity?” The question declares the offer - suggestively - to be an “opportunity with an expiry date” (which does not have to be right at all). At the same time it appeals to the bad conscience and the fear of loss of the other person: You are missing something! A typical psychological trick.

What are the goals of rhetorical questions?

If rhetorical questions are not to be answered and no information can be obtained, a completely different question arises: Why are rhetorical questions used at all? In order to understand this, you should bear in mind that these are not questions in the classic sense, but a linguistic stylistic device that is intended to serve several purposes. Depending on the situation and context, rhetorical questions can pursue the following goals:

Rhetorical questions emphasize statements

The most common use of rhetorical questions is aimed at reinforcing a statement and re-emphasizing an argument. For example, if the boss says to an employee: “Is that how you really want to present this to the customer?” It becomes clear that the colleague should make another thorough improvement. The formulation as a rhetorical question disguises the criticism (“It doesn't work that way!”) And suggests to the employee that he has an option. Of course he didn't.

Rhetorical questions manipulate the course of the conversation

Rhetorical questions are an effective stylistic device to influence the course of the conversation and to shape it according to your own ideas. Experienced rhetoricians can literally talk to their counterpart against the wall: The interlocutor is pushed more and more into a passive and defensive position using questioning techniques. He or she has to answer. At the same time, consent can be forced through clever questions. Rhetorical questions also serve as so-called homicide arguments: The speaker rises up and makes it difficult or even impossible for his interlocutor to continue discussing. Such a rhetorical question is, for example: "When will you finally grow up?"

Rhetorical questions attract attention

In speeches, lectures and presentations, rhetorical questions are often used to increase the audience's attention. These include, for example, rhetorical questions such as: "Do you still believe that climate change does not exist?" "Hand on heart: Who really believes that?" "Seriously?" Often questions are anticipated that the audience might also have - however, the question itself already contains a rating (and an answer). Which brings us to the last point

Rhetorical questions contain a rating

Often rhetorical questions are combined with irony. In this way, criticism is either conveyed in a subtle way or a person or situation is ridiculed. Examples: "Could it be that you had too much coffee this morning?" "Did you want to convince us with your dress or with arguments?" It is always a mistake to answer such questions or even to answer them!

Warning: rhetorical traps

Rhetorical questions can be a nasty trap. The best example of this: “Are you still paying your employees unfairly?” Regardless of whether you answer “yes” or “no” - the other person admits to being an exploiter. Even in the “no” there is only a “today I'm not paying it unfairly” - but I did earlier. Any response to such questions amounts to an unwanted (but desired) confession. So be careful!

Rhetorical questions should be treated with caution

Rhetorical questions are a versatile stylistic device, but often have a catch: They are recognized as an attempt at manipulation - they can upset the recipient or even escalate the conversation or discussion. The reason is the sub-messages that resonate with a rhetorical question. A rhetorical “Didn't you think of that?” Implicitly turns into “How can you be so stupid?” Behind a “Is that really your opinion?” Stands an unsaid “You can't be serious!” Rhetorical questions should therefore only be used sparingly and with the greatest possible sensitivity.

Conversely: With rhetorical questions you can answer such questions and fend them off quickly. In other words, answer a question with a counter-question - and thus direct the effect against the questioner (back). Example: “Didn't you think of that?” - “Were my explanations too complex for you?” (See also: quick-witted answers).

Examples: rhetorical questions and their messages

If you decide on rhetorical questions, these should be chosen carefully - and of course you should also be aware of the messages and prompts hidden in them. We have therefore collected 25 examples of rhetorical questions - including the sub-messages and statements that are contained in them:

  • What would you do if ...?
    Makes someone think outside the box.
  • What would you change if ...?
    Specifies vague criticism.
  • If you were in my place ...?
    Tests leadership potential and encourages you to identify opportunities.
  • How would you communicate that ...?
    Visualizes communication skills and the reactions of others.
  • On a scale from 1 to 10 ...?
    Tries to objectify emotions.
  • What are you working on ...?
    Clarifies current engagement, but also vacancies.
  • What can I do to help you ...?
    Demonstrates willingness to negotiate and creates options.
  • What can WE do to ...?
  • What can we do now…?
    Leads to immediate solutions.
  • What are the greatest challenges ...?
    Identifies boundaries.
  • What did you learn from it ...?
    Checks analytical strength and learning ability.
  • So you mean to say ...?
    Questions language sloppiness or even attempts to cover up.
  • Would you agree ...?
    Test each other's limits.
  • Do you remember ...?
    Tests the memory, but also the ability to recognize analogies.
  • Have you thought about that ...?
    Questions diligence and strength of analysis.
  • Did you also think that ...?
    A leading question that sounds more like advice than instruction.
  • Did you think that ...?
    Wenger suggestive, but stimulates more thought.
  • How would you approach the matter?
    Motivates creativity and tests it at the same time.
  • How did you solve that back then ...?
    Checks past successes and insights gained from them.
  • How would you measure that ...?
    Strives for objectivity and focuses on verifiable facts.
  • What alternatives do we have ...?
    Encourages limitless thoughts and open discussion.
  • How does that go with ...?
    Focused on the common thread and important synergies.
  • Who agrees on that…?
    Clarifies the level of interest in a thing.
  • Did you ask that ...?
    Questions each other's questions.
  • Have we forgotten something ...?
    Looks for new questions.

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