Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 56: Stop Asking Less Than What You Want to Know

Yesterday I wrote about how I want to get into the practice of not answering more than what is asked. I'd actually love it if we all got into that habit as there are very few people I know who actually do it well and effectively.

I want to go back to the example I shared from that scene in West Wing. How do you normally answer the question, "Do you know what time it is?" If you're like me, you answer like CJ and the rest of humanity. "12:05." But what if we all did actually get in the habit of actually answering the question that's asked?

I posed this to The Wifey yesterday and she said what I anticipated in my post. It was something to the effect of, "You're not really going to answer that question with just 'yes' are you?" I responded by practicing what I had just written.

"Yes."

"Ugh...that's annoying."

"I know!" I said.

But then something dawned on me. Just as we can answer than what is asked in a question we can ask less than what we want out of our questions. Let me explain.

Out of years of dialogue with people we've all created a ton of shortcuts in how we speak. They are built off of past experiences and exchanges. It's highly possible that as a kid you took the question "Do you know what time it is?" for what it was and answered "Yes." Then either your parents or your teachers or some other authority figure said, "Don't be a smartass, what time is it?" or "Well then, what time is it?" Even if you weren't trying to be smart, adults who have learned the shorthand ask out of the assumption that you should know it too. So when they hear "yes," they respond in a way that says you know what I meant. And because of experiences like that, you learn to assume the question that they meant to ask as opposed to the one that was asked. You and I begin to participate in the vicious circle in who knows how many other instances where we read additional meaning into a question rather than dealing directly with the question.

What would happen if we practiced stopping two things then, answering more than we are asked and asking less than what we want to know? I can only see good things. For one, a lot of unstated assumptions will be thrown out the window on both sides. Another benefit is that for most of us who are talkers, we will have to learn thoughtfully an economy of words, which definitely does the world a lot of good. Last, I think we will just learn how to ask really good, accurate, and most importantly, honest, questions, even if they are simple.

As I'm thinking about closing this blog, I am even tempted to throw out an empty question like, "what do you think?" Is that really what I want to ask? No. And that's the point. It's less than what I want to know. It's a nebulous, throwaway question that's often asked when it feels like there's nothing left to ask. So I'm racking my brain trying to come up with what I want to ask.

And my 30 minutes are up!


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