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?


Dave said...

Rather than use one form or the other based on my emotional investment, I will do so based on my perception of how the other person will take the request emotionally.

If this is something that is a "no-brainer", something that I don't think will be threatening/challenging/difficult at all... then I will "inform".

If this is something that effects them in a significant manner, something that could tread on emotionally challenging ground, then I will "ask".

If I have a high degree of emotional investment, I will often give a preliminary framing statement.

"I would like to talk to you about 'X', and just to let you know, I'm really, really hoping to do 'X'. The thing is, I see that it will impact you, so I feel the need to talk to you about it first."

This way I am showing the other person my feelings, acknowledging the importance of my feelings, and emphasizing that I am aware that they will likely have an opinion and that I value that as well.

vrimj said...

I am not always good at it but I try to use this format I want X for reason Y the importance is Z

For example - I want to go out on a date Tuesday because I met someone I am really excited about, if I don't get a chance to make plans soon I will be upset and it will be hard for me to cooperate with other people getting time for their stuff.

Or an example for today - If your playmates come and visit for a week I will still want sex, it doesn't have to be every night but if I don't get some and get tucked in most nights I might be pouty.

If other people are involved it is not just my choice, we have to decide together, but I also want to be clear about what I want, why and what might happen if I don't get it.

Of course sometimes the choice is already made, like when I have to deploy for work, in that case there is no sense in pretending that a choice is being made.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting thing to think about. I am not deep enough into outside relationships to have many of these dilemmas. I'll keep this in mind and think about it, though.

lynelle said...

for us, it really depends on what the topic is.

for purchasing expensive things, we ask each other, since we have family financial goals. with our money combined, if either of us makes a large financial purchase, it impacts the progress we make on our shared financial goals.

even for inexpensive expenses, i often ask, not for permission exactly, but to find out if the cash flow is currently at a point where we can debit card a $200 (or more) grocery bill. (he manages the household account.)

for parenting issues that involve principles, limits, and thought about HOW we want to decide something, even if we have a personal preference and/or a tentative plan, we ask each other first, so that we identify whether or not we're on similar pages philosophically. if we're on different pages, it's been easier if we can identify what one or the other of us might have missed and/or find an agreeable compromise before we give an answer to our kids.

for us, it's not about a united front as much as it is about learning from each other where our philosophies mesh and where they don't. we've had times where we've told the kids that one of us wants to say "no" and the other wants to say "yes" and we both share our reasons and see what the kids think. sometimes they'll opt out after hearing our reasons. other times, we'll tell them that we're willing to go with "yes" in spite of our differing opinions, but please be careful.

for scheduling time for dates, hobbies, kid events, or other things, we generally inform, yet with a caveat that proposed plans are not final until we run it by each other. philosophically, we share the belief that we *want* each other to be able to have significant autonomy for scheduling and logistics. so unless a proposed date/timeframe *actually* conflicts with an existing commitment, expectation, or other event that is important to one or the other or both of us, we would support whatever scheduling plans the other person wants to make.

the exception is if i want to schedule something that leaves me unavailable to take kids somewhere. in those cases, i ask, since my desired plan means i'm also needing my husband to take kids somewhere and i won't assume he's free to do that.
so those situations require an ask; not an inform.

if we begin to feel distant, or like life has become too busy for either of us to feel connected, or like one person has become the ongoing parent-in-charge-of-all-kids, we address that as a separate issue. we can figure out how to use our existing time together to have more quality time, and/or we can carve more actual time for us, while still supporting the dates that enable both of us to pursue other interests, hobbies, and/or other love.

for logistics, the only reason we'd say a "ummm... please don't finalize that" is if there is already a scheduled event or some other reason that led one of us to expect that the proposed day is already booked elsewhere.

for us, a logistics inform situation came up recently when my other love asked if we could switch our last-wednesday monthly sleep-over to be last-friday instead. i told my husband of the proposed plan and the reasons for the requested change and asked if he saw any conflict i may have missed. so it was inform, but with an understanding that if i missed something, the proposed change wasn't final yet. he wondered if the change would limit our weekend get away opportunities, then remembered it's only once a month, and i also reminded him that it's flexible if needed, and with those updates, we were good to implement the new plan.

there's probably other topics that might fall into one or the other category, but finances, parenting, and logistics/scheduling are the only ones i can think of at the moment.

polyfulcrum said...

Parenting is usually the big one for me on this. When I am going out, someone else is generally going to be picking up childcare responsibilities. If my desire is for another adult in our household to handle that, I ask and modify plans as needed. In the event that the thing I want to be out for feels really important to me, I'll often consider/set up alternate arrangements for childcare, like time with a grandparent, overnight with a friend, or babysitting, so I don't feel a need to "ask", because no one's left holding the bag in my absence.

It feels good to be considered when my co-parent(s) are making plans. Being the default solution can often feel similar to being taken for granted, so I try to ask, rather than inform, to acknowledge that someone is stepping up and taking care of practicalities.

If no one is directly impacted by my choices, like I have a partner over during the day when no one else is home and the kids are at school, that would be an information sharing opportunity, but not an asking one for me.

lynelle said...

excellent points PF.... and actually, it might be similar for us about parenting...

i hadn't thought about the age factor when i shared our style. i was responding based on current reality.

when our kids were younger, it was an ask instead of inform because there were clearly going to be parenting duties that the person-at-home would need to be responsible for. even with the person not having another scheduled thing, i wouldn't want to have a partner feeling like he's being taken for granted, or like he's the default-anytime babysitter. yes, we signed up for kid duties when we opted to have kids, but we also intended to share that job. so scheduling things that leave him solely responsible instead of *also* responsible is a significant difference.

i was coming from our current situation where our kids are 15 and 17 and very self-sufficient. in our cases, the parenting duties are mostly kid-chauffeuring. if i know the kids have no transportation needs for whatever tentative plans i'm making, and i know my husband doesn't have anything else planned, i can go with an informational update more often than not, as opposed to an asking style.

and even in an info update... it's always with a caveat that my plans aren't final until he's confirmed i haven't forgotten anything. my brain sometimes leaks, so a backup check person is a good thing!