Monday, May 31, 2010

Ask versus Inform


How you communicate a desire is significantly influenced by the way you say it. My wife (polyfulcrum) and I have gone rounds on this topic many times in our marriage: Do you ask or do you inform?


In her paradigm, she believes that asking is nearly always the way to go. In my world, I tend to pick and choose which way to frame something.


Let's take a simple example to start. I go to someone's house and have the need to use the toilet. I could say, "May I please use your bathroom?" or I could say, "Where is your bathroom; I need to go." Since the host of the house is only a stake holder in the sense that he would really rather you not mess on the floor or out in the garden, the likelihood of him answering "No" to the request phrased as a question is pretty low. (Although, I have been known to give a snarky "No" and then promptly show a guest to the restroom. Hehehe!) However, the same desire phrased as the statement of intent generally doesn't draw a blink either.


Now I think we'll all agree that the bathroom example is too tame. It's not charged with enough emotional umph. The two worlds tend to collide when there is a disagreement over stake holders. Who is vested in the outcome of that decision to act and is permission needed?


So, here's a real-world example from my life. I check Google calendar (which has all the houshold adult's schedules) and find that a certain day of the week is free from plans that either Polyfulcrum or Simon. I make a plan with a promising new connection and then promptly tell PF, "Hey, I'm going out on Thursday night." While this was communication, it was not a permission-seeking statement. And as such, that will often ruffle PF's feathers. I believe that she wants to be closer to the decision's origin and be made to feel like she can veto a decision before it gets too far out of the gate by wanting the desire to be phrased as a question. If I am informing, then it's much further down the line -- other people may be involved and their resources and schedules may already be comitted. Now the social cost is much higher in order to protest a decision.


I find that I will most often inform when I feel more emotionally vested in a course of action and ask when I feel less vested. How do you all handle Ask versus Inform?
Post a Comment