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What do you want?
I ask for input, then ignore what I'm offered and do my own thing anyway
28 November 2007 | Admin
This month's "Real Life Dilemma" is guaranteed to get the goat up in anyone who is on the receiving end of it. Asking someone for their input, and then doing your own thing anyway can result in a fall-out of titanic proportions.
I'll be presenting a scenario to illustrate this type of dilemma; exploring the tactics that are in play during such an exchange, and providing some tips on how to avoid this being a stressor in your relationships...
I'm writing up a document that's something to do with work, and I reach a bit that I'm not 100% sure about. I turn to my partner and ask "what do you think I should say here" (pointing to the part that I'm asking for input on). My partner tells me what he thinks.
I listen but decide that I can come up with something better. Instead of just doing it though, I engage my partner in dialog in an effort to explain why what they've suggested can't be used.
After a while (or sometimes immediately) my partner turns around and says "why do you bother asking me then!!!!!".
Sound familiar? This scenario could be replaced with choosing a movie to watch, deciding what to have for dinner or what to do at the weekend. What ever the context, the common theme is asking another person for their view or input on something, and then doing your own thing anyway.
First up let's look at the kinds of things that could be true of the Asker in this situation. One thing is that the Asker could want someone to relieve them of the responsibility of making a decision on their own. Or it could be that the Asker is feeling burdened by the decision point they are at, and they're seeking relief from that burden. Another possibility is that the Asker has developed a "what do you think?" habit that runs on auto-pilot, and they're really just needing to think out loud.
Tip #1 - If you're the Asker, ask yourself what's going on for you to cause you to ask. If you're the Giver, ask yourself what might be going on for the Asker to be asking you that question
Looking below the surface in this way puts a larger frame around what's going on and gives you more choice in how you respond. For instance, if the underlying reason for the Asker asking is that they want someone to relieve them of the responsibility of making a decision on their own, then the Giver could say something like "I'm very confident that you can come up with something suitable yourself ... you're good at this kind of thing". The point here is to respond to the underlying issue, rather than what's being presented on the surface.
Next let's consider this dilemma from the Giver's perspective. The Giver may reluctantly or enthusiastically respond to what's being asked of them (depending on what's being asked, and what else they're doing at that precise moment). The Giver's train of thought is interrupted and to reply he must disengage from what he's doing.
Tip #2 - As the Asker, consider for a moment what it might feel like to have your attention taken away from doing something in order to give input, and then to have that input fairly consistently ignored.
Considering the other person in this way should cause you to think twice about whether you really need to be asking
It's quite possible that the "what do you think?" question runs on auto-pilot. By this I mean outside of the Asker's awareness. To check if this could be true of you, ask yourself this question:
Do I hear myself saying "shall we do ....." or "do you think I should ..... " or "what do you reckon if I ...", AND do I, nine times out of ten, do what I want to do in the end anyway, irrespective of the answer given to me?
If you've answered yes to both parts of the above question, then it's quite possible that asking has become a habit rather than being a genuine request for input.
Tip #3 - Pause before you ask, and say to yourself "Do I already have the answer to this", or "Have I already decided?" If you do, or you have already decided, then why ask?
Or you could alter what you're saying to reflect the fact that you're telling someone rather than asking them. For instance:
"Do you think that bag is safe there?" becomes "I don't think that bag is safe there. I'm going to move it."
"What do you want to eat tonight?" becomes "I'll be preparing fish for dinner tonight"
Which brings me round to my final point. It's quite OK to put your thoughts out into open space without really wanting input (you might just want to think out loud to clarify something), providing you make it clear that that's what you're doing.
'till next month!