Recently I have started asking questions. It has come to my attention that I need to listen more. I’m not referring to talking less. This listening has to do more with listening for what is not said and asking questions of the confusing things people say. The more I do this, the more I learn.
While sitting at a stoplight the other day, when Grandpa remarked “Nice tattle tale sticker”, regarding the truck in front of us. I stopped for a moment and looked at the sticker. It was your standard 800 number and vehicle identification on a local delivery vehicle. Finding no humorous combination of letters, I thought this an odd observation and asked why he had said something.
This led to him telling a story about his boss and a coworker, in which he said the oddest thing. “She’s the type of person who wants you to tell the truth.” After he finished telling me his story I asked a follow-up question. “Is there a type of person who wants you to lie to them?” This simple question led to one of the most interesting discussions we have had in weeks.
As women, we learned a certain style of questioning, most likely from our own maternal figure. In this question, we already know the answer. We may have deduced the answer or we may have proof of the answer. Yet we still ask the question. In the example given by Grandpa, there was photographic evidence, yet the question was asked first, “Did you do this thing?”
My initial reaction was that, naturally we would ask. We are giving you the opportunity to be truthful. As long as you are truthful, what does it matter? We danced around this for a while until we got to the meat of the issue. To Grandpa, when this form of questioning is used it is with the hope of entrapment. That is to say, in his experience when the complete and utter truth isn’t told, then the proof is pulled out and now the person being questioned is not only wrong, they are wrong twice.
Which got me to thinking. Why are we doing this? I always thought that I was giving someone the chance to be honest. Then I realized, it is yet another way that we, as women, seek to avoid conflict. However, without a commitment to total honesty from both parties, this tends to lead to more conflict instead of less.
The question, when asked in the way we were raised would have gone something like this “Hey employee, have you been keeping your phone in do not disturb while driving.” The employee says of course they do, those are the rules. Then the gotcha moment comes, when we pull out our proof.
Imagine instead for a moment it went like this, “Hey employee. I received an email with a photo of you clearly texting and driving, which you know is against company policy. What do you have to say?” Honesty, not always comfortable is it?
Straightforward and to the point. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. Our house has a policy. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Here I have been breaking it for years! I can’t even count the number of times I have asked a question when I already had information that I was keeping to myself. Why was I not asking the question I really had?
How many times as a parent have we asked our children a question we already knew the answer to, or thought we knew? I know I’ve asked “Did you wash your hands?” as I’m standing there looking at what are clearly not washed hands. Instead I could have said “Your hands look like you need to wash them.” Or one of hundreds of other variations. Rinse and repeat daily and you have just taught a new generation that this is the way to communicate.
We only know what we are taught. This is another concept that I have recently been introduced to. I don’t know about you, but I have never given that much thought. How can I know anything but that which I have learned? So what is to be expected when we are all taught the same ineffective communication technique?
For one, we can expect a lot of head butting. We can expect hurt feelings and incomplete communication. We can expect cracks in relationships that never quite get mended. Worst of all, we can start a cycle in which we become so tired of hoping for truth and receiving more hurt that all communication stops.
I propose there is another option. The next time you ask a question, stop and think. Are you asking your real question or are you giving someone the chance to tell you a lie in the hope that you can be proven right, yet again?
So, in yet another mission to change my corner of the world, I will do my utmost to stop this circle of questioning. I will ask what I mean to ask.