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Give me some examples of rephrasing a question into a statement
March 15, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I've heard that men don't like questions. I'm a woman and would like to have better relationships with the men in my life. Give me some examples of ways to rephrase questions into statements, directives or imperatives.

I've recently been reading some of the work of the life coach Talane Miedaner.

Watching a webcast of a seminar she gave the other day about "breaking through the glass ceiling", a light went on.

She claims that "men don't like questions" and suggested that women, especially, would communicate better with men if they asked fewer questions and rephrased their communications. Polling men friends, coworkers and relatives, most men seem to agree.

I work in a male dominated industry and am looking for any way I can increase my influence and effectiveness. I figure this is worth a try.

Ordinarily, I ask questions about everything compulsively. I do it so instinctively I don't even know I'm doing it, so it's going to take some practice to stop and reframe my questions into forms that are less challenging and threatening to men.

An example might be: instead of "How was your day?" rephrase it into "Tell me about your day".
Another might be: instead of "How are you going to fix this problem?", say "Explain to me how you are going to fix this problem"

I am looking for more examples, as this kind of rephrasing is far from natural to me. I'd like to create a "cheat sheet" list of sentence openers and forms that I can carry around with me and use as a reminder until this habit is more ingrained. Please give me your suggestions.

Any commentary on the thesis is also welcomed.
posted by geekgirl397 to Human Relations (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Those aren't necessarily statements, so much as commands. I'm not sure how much better off you'd be if you went around demanding things from people, rather than just asking them.

But, if you do want to go that route, try rephrasing it. Instead of demanding that they tell you about your day, instead say "I'd like to know about your day." That's a pretty neutral statement.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:18 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a man and I've never felt that I don't like questions, so I think this is a generalization or even not correct. Maybe what you are really getting at is some guys don't like chit-chatty idle questions and/or too many questions? That might be somewhat true in general. A typical guy might prefer "What did you do today?" instead of "How was your day?", and that same guy also wouldn't like "Tell me about your day".

I think "Can you explain to me..." is better than "Explain to me..." which sounds demanding.

Here are some phrasings I think guys might like:

"What's up with (such-and-such situation)?"

"What's happening with (such-and-such situation)?"

"Did you do (such-and-such)?"

Of course these are generalizations and every guy and situation is different.
posted by Dansaman at 1:28 PM on March 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I flipped through the linked webcast deck and I didn't see anything about men not liking questions. As a man, I have trouble relating to that assertion. Can you provide some other reference or examples of why and how men don't like questions? That would be useful.
posted by alms at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can you add "tell me" to the beginning of the question? That way you're still speaking naturally for you and not rewiring your whole conversational brain, but you're also adding a lot of assertiveness by turning a question into a command. Compare:

1. How are you going to widget that wadget?

2. Tell me: how are you going to widget that wadget?

For this to work, the tell me has to feel a bit forceful.
posted by prefpara at 1:34 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Instead of asking "do you think X, Y, and Z could work?" you can say "I think X, Y, and Z would work. Let's do that."

Instead of "Would you like to do X?" you can say "I'd like it if you did X."
posted by steinwald at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


So, I would probably have some issues with how, um, simplistically her thesis is presented (on a few ends. I don't think "all" men exist, for example, and i think this could vary significantly based in workplace), or with its underlying assumption that women should be the one to change, as opposed to, you know, sexism in the workplace, but...

Because of socialization, women are generally more likely to communicate in a way that attempts to be more polite, or that serves to encourage interaction among participants (as opposed to genuinely needing an answer; the question exists to give others a space to contribute).

This can come off as deferential, unsure, or avoidant of responsibility, especially if done excessively, or if done in a setting with very assertive as direct communicators (men or women).

I don't think you need to start making demands.
On the other hand, you don't do yourself (or even others) any favor if you employ a lot of passive voice, subjunctive phrases, or "I thinks..." when you actually need to tell someone what to do, provide clear feedback, or try to get you point implemented. Sometimes, a direct approach can be better - and this can be true, regardless of gender.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are you getting at women sometimes not owning their position? For instance, a manager asking a report, "Would you mind copying that file for me?" would be better served by saying, "Please copy that file for me by noon today."

If that's what you mean, I think your examples are off because in your examples, nothing really changes ("How was your day?" vs "Tell me about your day."). Whereas in my example, the first is asking permission of someone whose permission should already be granted through hierarchy and also vague as far as timing while the second is clear and polite but managerial.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:40 PM on March 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


I didn't get that takeaway from her, but---I work in a male-dominated industry and I've found that I have better exchanges with male colleagues or bosses when I ask for something in a way that elicits a response about action, rather than feelings. I usually don't ask a man "So, how do you feel about the cut?"--rather, I'll ask "what are you planning to do with Act 3 or the montage or whatever", so he'll tell me his plan, rather than being put on the spot to give me an opinion.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:42 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work with men and women, and I hear women ask men questions, and men ask other men questions, and women ask women questions, and men ask women questions. These are questions that range from polite social noise (How's you day going, did you catch the game last night) to work-related (Did you rebuild that box yet, what's the ETA on that, when can you get the draft to me, etc.).

An example might be: instead of "How was your day?" rephrase it into "Tell me about your day".
Another might be: instead of "How are you going to fix this problem?", say "Explain to me how you are going to fix this problem"


Neither of these come off as remotely less challenging to me (I am not a man) - quite the opposite.

Ordinarily, I ask questions about everything compulsively. I do it so instinctively I don't even know I'm doing it, so it's going to take some practice to stop and reframe my questions into forms that are less challenging and threatening to men.

Maybe it's the compulsive aspect of the questions that throws people off - if they feel like they're being bombarded, that can be really annoying no matter how it's phrased. Commanding someone compulsively and incessantly will not help.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really have no idea about this stuff about what "men" like or dislike, but I might have some inclination as to what this thing is actually about...

There's a certain kind of vibe that I do think is sometimes associated with "masculinity," and that I think maybe you're going for. It's something that I appreciate when I want to feel safely and comfortably man-like. I realize it's problematic to associate it with gender, but that's how it feels. I know it has very little to do with physical sex.

This vibe is a kind of "team" thing, and just replacing questions with commands won't do it. The key is to make your questions (or commands) originate from a position of mutual trust and recognition of intelligence and capacity.

In the example of "How are you going to fix this problem?" both your suggestions are wrong. I'm not going to fix the problem -- WE'RE going to fix it. You are involved. This is reality; something is broken; let's fix it. The right approach is to get involved with the problem yourself and then ask a concrete question (or give a concrete command), aimed at getting it solved, from the perspective of you and I both being competent and reasonable people. There is no formula for this, but examples might be "hand me the wrench" or "how can I help?" or "can you just explain this to me because I don't really understand what's going on" or "that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

If it's not a practical handyman type problem, directness and cooperation are still crucial. If I'm feeling depressed, maybe I don't want you either asking "how do you feel?" or saying "tell me how you feel," but I would appreciate "dude, you realize you probably actually are depressed and should see a psychiatrist?" or "you're obviously in the gutter, are you capable of tagging along to the jazz club on Tuesday? There's an interesting band playing and it might get you out of your rut."
posted by mbrock at 1:44 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I also think this is a very strange claim to make about men... I would question your starting assumption, if I were you.

However, there is a phenomenon not too distant to what you describe. Women in our society are regularly socialized to avoid making direct requests. It's seen as "bossy" or "demanding" for a woman to come out and say something like, "Hey, go do this" or the like. So, instead, many women have been socialized to say something like, "Would you mind doing this?" or "Would you like doing this?" or "How about doing this?" The question is just the mask for a command or a request. This sort of question can be problematic. It can sound passive-aggressive, and it leaves the listener in the position to determine if it's actually a question or really a command/request. I think a lot of times men, who aren't socialized to be circumspect like this, can get really frustrated after enough masked-requests like this. They end up wanting to scream, "For God's sake, if you want something, actually say so!"

Now, the way to avoiding this kind of request-as-question is to think about your motive for asking. If you feel inclined to say, "Would you like to buy some cabbage tonight?" Determine what you want: do you want information about the other's mental states in regards to buying cabbage, or do you want the other to perform the task of buying some cabbage? If what you want is information, the question is appropriate. Your goal literally is to ask a question and get an answer. If, on the other hand, you want them to perform the action, then the question is just masking the request. Restatement is appropriate. Something like, "I would appreciate it if you would buy some cabbage tonight."
posted by meese at 1:46 PM on March 15, 2013 [23 favorites]


I'm a man, and rather baffled by the bald assertion that "men don't like questions". Certainly I have nothing against them. Without more detail I can't really say much more about it, except that I'm generally sceptical of such broad generalizations, especially when presented without any supporting evidence.

I would recommend reading Talking from Nine to Five: Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex and Power by Deborah Tannen, if you have not already done so. It addresses the same problems that Miedaner seems to be aiming at, but in my opinion (based on the slides you linked to) does so more effectively and thoroughly.
posted by pont at 1:54 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The only way I can see a man responding better to a statement than a question is when the question is a passive-aggressive way of not owning a statement.

"Are you sure that's really the best way to do it?" (Meaning, "I don't think that's a good way to do it, but go ahead and do it anyway and I'll blame you later; but if you do it differently, and it goes south, I didn't actually tell you to change anything."

"Are you sure you want to order Chinese again?"

I can see that some women have learned not to be confrontational, but that can get irritating when you're trying to figure out efficiently what needs doing. If you think I'm wrong, I'd rather you actually disagree with me, don't ask tendentious questions that suggest I'm wrong.

Of course, that assumes that the men in question, like me, prefer a quick argument that arrives at a decision to just simply being agreed with on the surface.
posted by musofire at 1:58 PM on March 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


You could just offer statements with vaguely flattering overtones.

You've been doing a lot of stuff recently.
That seems pretty complicated.
You seem to have been doing some interesting things.
This has been a long day.
Looks a tricky problem.
You know a lot about this stuff.
I suppose that could be difficult.
posted by Segundus at 2:00 PM on March 15, 2013


Here's a better link that explains where I found this idea.

she says:

" ... let's start with one simple technique that you can use right now today to improve your communcation skills with men. Stop asking questions. Instead use statements or simply give instructions. You can practice right now with your husband, mate, or children. Instead of saying, “Hi honey, how was your day?” try this, “Hi honey, tell me about your day.” Notice the subtle difference. You will not be asking a questions but instead giving an instruction. Men do really well with simple instructions, and don't be afraid to be specific.

Try this at work on male colleagues and bosses and you'll instantly get better results. When you go into your boss, avoid asking any questions and instead convert everything into a statement. Instead of saying, “What changes did you want me to make to this report?” say, “Tell me what you wanted me to change.” The moment a man hears a question, their hackles go up, unconsciously so this new style you adopt will put men at ease. It will take some practice on your part to get used to it so get your male friends to remind you every time you ask a question so you can practice converting it into a statement. Tell me... is a good starting point. Tell me what you most liked about my presentation. Instead of asking, when would be a good time to meet, say, “Let's set up a meeting for Friday at 1pm.” This makes you look more directive. Men associate questions with weakness. Instead of saying, “Can you clarify what you mean? I didn't understand. Change that to an instruction. Please explain your third point about the sales figures. "

I am equally uncomfortable with gender-based generalizations, but I've gone through life doing reasonably well precisely by asking lots of questions. I have well above average social skills but right now I'm hitting a serious block in communicating with senior management (entirely male), so I'm willing to try switching up my approach.
posted by geekgirl397 at 2:08 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work in a male dominated industry and am looking for any way I can increase my influence and effectiveness. I figure this is worth a try.

As a man, I will say this kind of thinking will get you nothing except more frustration.

Beta males sometimes have little influence with alpha males - both are men. Alpha males sometimes battle other alpha males with little effectiveness - both are men. Fathers and sons fight due to ineffective communication - both are male.

Your success in both influence and effectiveness will always depend on the man in front of you - there is no "one way." Focus instead the nuances that both men and women have, and use emotional intelligence as part of your communication navigation.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:09 PM on March 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm going to suggest a third way. "How was your day?" can sound prying, "Tell me about your day." sounds bossy, "I would like to know how your day went." is a statement of personal interest.

With Kruger5's observation and the personal observation that I'm likely mostly a beta. People have turned to me for leadership, but I try to build consensus and have a disappointing career because of that.
posted by straw at 2:12 PM on March 15, 2013


Questions per se should be fine in any reasonable work environment (I ask questions like your examples all the time), but ill-defined, open-ended discussions aren't always very productive. Likewise, discussions about what "we" or "somebody" should do aren't so great. What's great are statements where you express a clear goal of your own or say you're taking something on, and then the question is just whether that's OK or whether anyone else had other plans that intersect with your aims. I don't know that any of that is necessarily gendered, but it strikes me as the kind of thing that could be in some contexts.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:24 PM on March 15, 2013


I'm not sure you're reading this article as it's intended.

Men associate questions with weakness.

I don't think this means that men "feel weak" if they are asked questions and you thus need to avoid challenging and threatening them, as you phrase it; it's that men (in theory) feel that when you ask questions you are weak. All of the "turn your questions into statements" stuff is about making demands rather than requests.

So if you think that your problem with the men in management is that you are already seen as "too challenging", you don't want to start rephasing anything into more command-like sentences. If you think that your problem is that they don't take you seriously, this might make sense.

Although I would be cautious about taking advice from someone who sincerely believes that

Men do really well with simple instructions, and don't be afraid to be specific.

is a good way to build relationships. I will give you a free piece of advice: although I actually do not identify as a woman, I have lived as a woman in a house with a group of men who acted like big babies all the time. I responded by giving them simpler and simpler instructions and constantly trying to finesse how I phrased things because I assumed that the problem was that they were basically too fragile, ego-driven and stupid to be equal partners in the house and that thus I had no option but to treat them as children. This didn't fix things! In fact, it made them worse - more and more responsibility devolved onto my shoulders. It's true that I held all the strings, but the whole "men are childlike, easily threatened, fragile and bad listeners by nature" thing became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn't until we evolved some genuine communication between equals, where no one was trying to use sentence structure to get over, that things actually evened out a bit and I began to feel less put-upon.
posted by Frowner at 2:24 PM on March 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


I have well above average social skills but right now I'm hitting a serious block in communicating with senior management (entirely male), so I'm willing to try switching up my approach.

I'm going to suggest that you need to stop finding a generic solution and look at why these particular men are not responding to you.

My I'm-a-stranger-on-the-internet guess is that you're failing to read the social cues of this group of male senior managers. Maybe it's an old boys club, maybe not. But you sound like you're flailing about and have already come to conclusions, based on what you've written here. You've given examples of what the life coach says to do, but zero examples of an interaction between you and any of these male senior managers.

So, can you give at least three examples of actual conversations with these higher ups? What did you intend to happen with these conversations? What actually happened? What social cues are you interpreting that demonstrate these specific men don't like questions?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a man, I think you are barking up the wrong tree here, but I'll try to give my advice.

I'm not so certain what you're getting at boils down to "men don't like questions." I read your excerpt from the link you posted and I can kind of see that point. When setting a meeting time I like to be (for example) presented with two or three options and asked which one works best. If an appointment time is presented as an open-ended question, then I am far more likely to suggest a meeting time that is bad for you and we will be going back and forth for much longer than necessary. However, I have no problem answering a question like "What changes did you want me to make to this report?" I can tell you that I do not take questions as a sign of weakness on the part of the asker.

I don't find gender-related communication differences to be a problem at work; but then again I work in a male-dominated industry, and either (a) the women I work with seem to be used to working in this industry and have adjusted their communication styles in subtle ways that I haven't noticed in order to compensate, or (b) it's never even been a problem.

In general, open-ended questions like "How was your day" tend to elicit short, unsatisfying responses from me like "good," "bad," "okay," or occasionally "good, how was yours?" I don't mind these kinds of questions, I just think that the asker would get more of the response she is seeking if I were to be asked about specifics. For example, I tend to give longer responses to questions like "What was the best/worst part of your day?" Sometimes I'll think about the answer without speaking right away, though, and that has a tendency to annoy the asker.

I'm really not sure that this is at all gender-related; I think it's just personal preference on my part. You can take 20 random men off the street and likely get 20 different preferences on this.
posted by tckma at 2:31 PM on March 15, 2013


If this is the webinar you're listening to, she mentions at one point that she worked at Chase Manhattan, so maybe that sample of men is a bit more backward about being asked questions by women. This advice sounds a bit sexist and condescending toward men, and basically suggests (gently) manipulating men to protect their tender feelings. There's probably more than a grain of truth in what she says-- some men will feel uncomfortable when women ask them questions they don't know the answers to-- but I don't think the solution is to treat male coworkers differently because they're male. For the sake of context, this looks like the relevant bit (15:27):
So, first of all, something that women don't realize: Men don't like questions. As a general rule, men don't like questions. Women do. Women think questions are great. You know, we feel completely comfortable with questions. You can ask us questions all day long and we're just fine with it. So, men don't like questions. And in fact, if you ask a few too many questions in a row, you find that they start to bristle and maybe even get a bit testy. So, as a general rule, now there's a few rare exceptions out there, but as a general rule, men don't like questions. I don't know if the men, or the one percent of the men on the call today, if they would vote yes or no whether they like questions, or not, but generally I find that men agree, yeah, no, you know, enough with the questions. And I think part of that has to do with how we're raised, in our cultural expectations, is that women are raised to be nice, to be good, to be modest, to be sweet. You know, we're supposed to be nice. And men are raised to be right. And so, if a man doesn't have the answer, questions always end up putting men a bit on the spot. It instantly almost raises their hackles a little bit, like, "Ooh! I'm on the spot here, I've got to be right." And so there's a little bit of pressure. So every time they get a question they just feel this little bit of pressure that can make them feel a little bit uncomfortable. So men do much better if you use instructions with them. So for example, very, very basic thing. One of my clients had two teenage boys and she says, "Talane, how come every day they come home from school and I say, 'Well, how was your day?' and they just grunt out, 'fine,' you know, and then go and eat their snack and it's like, I'd really like to know what happened during their day." And I said, well, you're asking them a question, that can be too easily answered with a grunt, so you need to do it a little bit different, give them an instruction. So she tried it, she said, "Tell me about your day." So she converted "How was your day," a question, into an instruction, "Tell me about your day," and guess what? They proceeded to tell her about the day. "Oh yeah, well this happened, and that thing happened, and the other thing happened." So, she couldn't believe it, she just could not believe the different response that she got. And women aren't aware of how many questions they ask. So, you know, this will help you. Hopefully after this, if you learn nothing else from this call today, this will be worth the price of admission, because it is so critical not to be asking so many darned questions. If you've got a male boss, instead of saying, you know, "What did you like about my report?" Instead, you should say something like, "Tell me what you liked about this report." Just switch to "tell me." And you'll find a much better response. Okay? This is a key thing, just that simple thing. It doesn't take much, but a few little changes in the way you communicate can change entirely how you're perceived, especially by the men in the workplace, how you're perceived. So, if you have a woman boss, that's fine, you can ask them questions, that won't bother them at all, so don't worry about that.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:32 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it should be made clear that "honey, how was your day" is a social question for a social situation, between a couple in a relationship.

It's not a question that would or should fly in a business relationship, either between coworkers, buyer and vendor, boss and underling, etc. Not just the honey, but the personal inquiry.

Generally, men draw the line between personal and business. They've learned when and when not to cross over, and they pay the price if they do this wrong. If you're in a business situation, play it say and don't make it personal. Don't ask about him, ask about his business. His actions are business related, his goofing off is business related, his work-product is business-related. Unless you're leading up to some kind of discipline, any hint that you're accusing or suspecting him of falling short is a challenge or a threat.

Some posters above have talked about how women are socialized. Well, men in business are socialized to compete-- cooperation is a tolerated means to an end. It's not dog-eat-dog in every case; men's goals vary from an easy-going existence to the top of the world, but they all compete for their corner. Men also know that people they work with have functions and needs related to the work. Keep the social and business separate, and keep the man's person and his job function separate in your mind when you pitch the question.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:33 PM on March 15, 2013


Another guy here. Nthing the sentiment that there's nothing wrong with asking men questions.

Re: your second post, I get what she is driving at but I think the advice she's offering is generic and overly-simplified. It's also mildly contradictory. On the one hand she's saying:

The moment a man hears a question, their hackles go up

which to me implies annoyance and defensiveness,

but then she's also saying:

men associate questions with weakness (in the questioner)

so which is it exactly?

Also,

Men do really well with simple instructions just comes off patronizing.

My serious suggestion is that you just ditch this woman's advice entirely and look into another approach.
posted by Broseph at 2:34 PM on March 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Any commentary on the thesis is also welcomed.

This comment is not directed at you, but is a more generalized yawp of frustration:

Am I the only woman who is fed up with the notion that any (alleged) "male" ways of communicating are inherently superior, and/or worthy of being catered to? It's a wearisome premise.

At any rate: I think the thesis lacks merit, based on my interactions with men as peers, friends, colleagues, and mentors. I won't be adapting my communications based on it.
posted by nacho fries at 2:38 PM on March 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree with this person's conclusions, but there is a lesson to be learned here. Nobody does well with passive language when direct action is what you want.

A lot of people make requests in the form of a question to make is sound "softer" and "not mean". A sort of Socratic method of management.

I don't like the font in the brochure. But I don't want to offend the designer. So I say "Can we think about changing the font?" or "Consider changing the font" or "don't you think Arial would look nicer?"

The result I want is for the font to be changed. But the thing I am asking for is consideration or thought. If I get "well, I thought about it and I like it the way it is", I am going to be frustrated because they aren't doing what I think I told them to do. So instead of being nice, I actually put up a barrier to effective communication. This little misunderstanding will color future interactions.

But perceptions of strength and weakness, and competency and incompetency matter way more toward respect than mere word and grammar choices. Tone matters. "I need your report by 4" and "Please give my your report by 4" and "would you get your report in by 4" have subtle differences in meaning and interpretation, and how you say it leverages or diminishes the effect of the word choices.

I have worked for some savage assholes, and some very nice people. How I perceived them as a boss had nothing to do with that, though. An asshole who consistently has his or her shit together and who shares the same goals as you will get more respect than a nice flake. I worked for one woman in particular who had a capacity for short temper and meanness. But she was fair and dedicated, and the only people who perceived her as "bitchy" were the passive people who resented her success or resented her pointing out the errors of their ways. Her boss was generally considered a misogynist, but he damn sure loved and respected her. Not because she "acted like a man" because there was nothing manly about her. Simply because she was a force to be reckoned with. She was right more often than she was wrong, and when she was wrong she cheerfully accepted it and apologized. She was good at her job, that made our jobs easier, and we all respected her.

Men do really well with simple instructions, and don't be afraid to be specific.

Ugh. Me not understand. Can pretty lady make more simple?
posted by gjc at 2:48 PM on March 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


The excerpt you posted seems pretty demeaning in the way it stereotypes men. I'm a feminist and not at all a Mens Rightsy sort, but come on, "[PEOPLE OF TYPE X] do really well with simple instructions" is just an insulting thing to say about any group of people and I would consider the advice of the person who wrote that sentence to be of dubious quality.

I tend to disagree with the premise, and as a man I personally do better in an environment where everybody is floating suggestions and gathering information in an open-table Q&A sort of discussion. In dealing with hierarchy-oriented Alpha Male types where this doesn't go over well, I find that it is better to approach discussions as either telling an underling what to do or as proposing a course of action to a superior; less "what should we do about this?" and more "I want you to handle this like so" or "we have this situation, I think we should approach it thusly, should I proceed?" It's not about the phrasing, it's about having a course of action in mind already and describing it with confidence, rather fishing around for more data or opinion from whoever you're speaking to. Otherwise you can come off as a "bad manager" giving inconsistent on incomplete instructions, or as a "bad employee" who needs hand-holding to do every little thing.

For what it's worth, my (female) partner and I often play out a version of this conflict with the putative genders reversed, where I'm the one feeling like I'm trying to interact in my usual way, asking a lot of questions and getting a lot of feedback and she's feeling bombarded by choices and forced into being the one who makes all the decisions, even though from my perspective I just want to bat ideas around and reach a decision by consensus. So, assigning this sort of behavior by gender probably isn't the most productive way to go about it. There's really no good shortcut to avoid dealing with people as individual beings, and trying to force them into categories you make up only keeps you from communicating effectively, though once you learn the culture of a particular organization you can probably make guesses about what style of communication the people within it are used to.
posted by contraption at 2:58 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it would be more helpful if you could give examples of "hitting a road block with senior management"? It's possible that there's something gendered going on, but I would not listen to to the article you've excerpted.
posted by yaymukund at 2:59 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you find that you are having difficulties communicating with male managers and suspect it may be because of conflicts between their "culturally male" styles of communication and your "culturally female" style of communication, I would second the recommendation of Deborah Tannen's work. I think Ms. Meidaner is making an awful lot of unfounded generalizations based on her personal experiences in the links you shared.

Also, there are no "alpha males" and "beta males". That is just imaginary nonsense based on long-debunked studies of wolves. Are some people more aggressive than others? Sure, but power is situational and highly dependent on context.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the problem is that you're dealing with senior management, who are, you know, senior management.
posted by heyjude at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2013


I wonder if this idea is actually pointing towards the way that some women, because of the training they have received in our sexist society which says they cannot be firmly right, pronounce statements as questions. My quick Google found mostly scholarly articles disproving this idea, which appears to come at least partially from this 1975 source. So on second thought, this may or may not be a real phenomenon, but anyway, it is an idea I've certainly heard a number of times before that some women have a tendency to use rising intonation when making statements.

If you were going to make a change of this type, it would be less like "How are you going to fix this problem?" vs "Explain to me how you are going to fix this problem" and more like "I am going to fix this problem by adjusting procedures?" vs "I am going to fix this problem by adjusting procedures." Of course, this only applies if you do happen to speak with rising intonation.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:29 PM on March 15, 2013


Reading that excerpt was helpful. I can see what she is trying to say, and A) some of what she says is accurate, B) her explanation for why it is accurate is hokey sexist BS, and C) this is a huge oversimplification that could hurt you in the long run.

Regarding the example of "what time is good for you? vs "let's meet at 1:00:" yes, the first question puts you in a potentially bad place if you are working with assertive colleagues who view you as a colleague, because the question reads as passive and like you want them to direct you, which can be annoying. Phrase it the second way, and propose a time.

But if you work in a very hierarchical organization, and make that second statement to a superior, it could also backfire, and does not convey what you want it to covey. If I got that second statement from one of the people I supervise/train, my hackles would be raised. My schedule is far busier than theirs. My job is to schedule their time for them, and for their fellow trainees. They can propose a day, sure, but they are presuming way too much if they attempt to schedule something for me. That is explicitly what my job was set up to prevent.

There is a ton of research in interpersonal and organizational communication about this very issue. It is very complicated, which is why people get PhDs in communication. You cannot go for a generic solution.

If anything, you need to identify specifically what styles of communication work in your specific company/environment, and tailor yourself to that. There is so much cultural, social, organizational, and technical variations that a one-size-fits-all solution from a life coach is just not that useful, or accurate.
posted by vivid postcard at 3:29 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am a woman working in a male dominated field. I also in general act aggressive/decisive compared to my female friends.

The problem is bigger than phrasing something as question vs phrasing something as a statement. The problem is the way we are culturally taught to speak, namely: consensus style communication vs hierarchical style communication.

Women are usually taught to use consensus style communication, which is more question oriented as you actively want other people's input. (It's also more relationship based.) Men are usually taught to use more hierarchical style, where you tell people what you want them to do, and you expect them to tell you if they have a problem with that and/or need something from you. (It's more goal/task oriented.)

The conflict comes when two people with different styles communicate. When a consensus-style asks a question, it's an invitation for discussion. However, a hierarchical-style person would perceive that as genuine confusion/ignorance. (Because otherwise, you should have just stated what you want to say.)

When I communicate with this type of person, I work based on the assumption that if they have questions/problems, they will tell me. (Sometimes, they're even happy to cut you off.) Or I tell them what I think (as statements), and then solicit their input.

(The other miscommunication you might be dealing with is people who talk aloud as they think things through vs people who only like to communicate well thought out ideas. The first type will keep trying to find faults. The second will wonder why the first doesn't have critical thinking ability.)
posted by ethidda at 3:36 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have no doubt that there are changes some women (and men) can make in their communication style to be more effective in the workplace. I think ethidda's comment is helpful in that regard. (For example, I do think that women sometimes over-apologize at work, or undercut themselves with self-deprecation).

But this life coach isn't actually giving constructive advice; she's playing on sexist stereotypes. Here's one easy way to tell: she's comparing men in the workplace to sullen teenagers who won't answer questions from their mother. In other words, "Men hate being questioned and they already get enough of that from their nagging wives. Better try something else." It's insulting to both genders and it's also nonsensical. Maybe it works with 14 year old boys, but there's no way in hell that I'm going to improve my ability to communicate with a male coworker by saying "Tell me what you thought of that candidate" instead of "What did you think about that candidate?"

I DO think that all people should refrain from using questions when they are actually trying to make a declarative statement. Don't say "I don't know, did you think the last paragraph was a little awkward maybe?" If what you mean is "The last paragraph doesn't work for me because of X. I think changing a, b, and c would make it much more persuasive."
posted by murfed13 at 3:53 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


This life coach sounds daffy. Also, "tell me about your day" would be really bizarre coming from a peer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 PM on March 15, 2013


I'm a man, and I would immediately catch on that you were oddly consistent phrasing things as commands and would start thinking "what's her angle?" Questions are normal and natural in conversation so definitely do not replace questions with statements across the board.

There are instances where I do rephrase what's ultimately a question as a statement. To my recollection it takes the form of saying something like "I don't know what's up with $topic" rather than the form of "what's up with $topic" because it's too direct and (perhaps) inappropriate for me to directly inquire about the specificities of the particular topic despite my curiosity and despite my colleagues willingness to speak on the topic. Instead I find my image of propriety is less likely to be breached by merely indirectly inviting someone to speak on the topic.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 7:18 PM on March 15, 2013


Do use questions when you are asking something you don't already know and need to get an answer. "Which of these two alternatives do you prefer?"

Don't use questions to indicate that you are uncertain, would like feedback, or are trying to be collaborative. "Do you think we should go with X?"

Before asking someone what they think about an issue on which you should have an opinion, state your opinion. "I see two alternatives: X and Y. I propose that we go with X because ___. What do you think?"
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:27 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to give the life coach the benefit of the doubt, in that her examples may be just that - examples. So "tell me about your day" might have been simply designed to demonstrate the idea, not a literal suggestion.

That said, I'm joining the chorus that is uncomfortable with the gender assumptions and don't think I'd enjoy listening to this life coach much.

If I ever write a management self-help instant classic, I may call it "It's Not About You: Eight Steps Toward Forgetting About How You're Getting Along and Getting Some Damn Work Done, Already"

I'm a guy, and a manager, and what I find annoying are people who walk around self-consciously with their brains in a muddle because they're focused on how they're coming across to me or others rather than being focused the problems they're being paid to solve. So I LOVE questions if they're intended as conjecture around a real issue ex. "Would replacing that computer make this go any quicker?" or to avoid a problem based on ignorance or uncertainty ex. "How are we supposed to price the setup charge again?"

What I hate are questions that don't accomplish anything. Rhetorical traps. Gossip set up as a query. CYA (I'm not against CYA, just come out and tell me you're doing it, ex. "For the record, I think waiving the service charge is a bad idea." Not "Why are you waiving the service charge?" Cf. 'rhetorical trap,' and this is just an example, and not a perfect one.). And these constructions are just as annoying to me if they're not set out as questions.

If you sense your questions are annoying people, it may pay you to find out why, either by analyzing them or asking a VERY trusted friend/mentor, rather than wasting time trying to somehow recast them. Are your questions gossipy? Appallingly ignorant? Do they reveal negative attitudes? Just examples - I don't know you. But if so, the solutions will lie in the area of re shaping the attitudes or skill set, not the grammar.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:16 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Dixon Ticonderoga, for posting the transcript. It seems that "tell me about your day" is the only real-world instance given, and it's a really suspect one. This is because (as others have pointed out here), "how was your day?" can easily be interpreted as a phatic question like "how's it going?" or "how are you?", where you are generally not expected to give a lengthy literal answer.

I agree that if you stopped saying "how are you?" to people (male and female) and replaced it with "Tell me how you are!", you'd almost certainly get more fulsome responses (and a few funny looks). I don't think that this provides much support for Miedaner's thesis in general, though.
posted by pont at 1:10 AM on March 16, 2013


Snorkmaiden and ethidda are correct - analysis of women's conversational patterns has shown that women are more likely to use questions - either adding on tags such as 'isn't it?' or 'don't you think?', or phrasing statements as questions. This is not evidence that men hate questions, more that women often communicate in a less confident way, a way which invites the listener to respond more than simply stating an opinion or view. Also, women are more likely to get involved in phatic communication - conversation which isn't aimed at learning anything or getting anything done, but is a way to reinforce the bond between individuals and conform to ideas of politeness.

A life coach is not a linguist nor a psychologist.
posted by mippy at 5:57 AM on March 20, 2013


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