I'm asking you a question.
January 10, 2014 10:12 AM   Subscribe

I need help thinking of a response to this.

There are two types of scenarios in which I've been asked this. The first is when someone asks me a question that I find offensive, or that the answer is none of their business, such as "How many times have you had sex?" [a real thing that fucking douchebags have asked me before] or something equally offensive, and I say "I will not answer that."

The second is when someone has asked me a question and I'm thinking of the answer. Example: I was interviewing someone for a position at work.

Interviewee: When will I hear back?

Me: [Thinks about when I will be able to get back to him for roughly 3 seconds]

Interviewee: So when will I hear back? When will I hear back? When will I hear back? When. Will. I. Hear. Back?

Another example:

Coworker: How many conveyer belts have we sold this month?

Me: [opening my mouth to answer]

Coworker: I'm asking you a question!

I think this is insanely disrespectful, and have ended relationships (not necessarily romantic ones, but sometimes. Acquaintanceships?) over being spoken to this way. I think that, first of all, just because you've asked me a question, that does not automatically entitle you to an answer, especially if your question is something that is none of your business/implying that I am cheating on you/other equally insulting thing.

Secondly, I think "what the fuck is your problem?" You can't wait a few seconds for me to think of the answer? I am not exaggerating when I say this happens after 3 seconds of deliberation. I mean, people pause before answering questions in conversations that I participate in all the time- teachers, colleagues, bosses, customer service representatives, whatever. So why is anyone saying this to me? When I ask someone a question and they don't answer the moment the question has come out of my mouth, I get that they're thinking before they respond, and have never, ever felt the need to say to someone "I'm asking you a question." (It would be different if they said "Enchanting Grasshopper?" if they thought I hadn't heard, or wanted to know why I wasn't answering or something, but that's not what they're doing.)

How do I respond to this? "I will not speak to you again because you just said 'I'm asking you a question'" is kind of a mouthful, and I think that it might not be necessary to end every relationship over it. I find it incredibly rude, and I never know what to say. If it makes any difference, I am a woman. 100% of the people who have ever said this to me are men.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Human Relations (60 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm considering the answer. Please wait a moment." You can make your tone as frosty as you like.
posted by Diablevert at 10:17 AM on January 10 [20 favorites]

If it makes any difference, I am a woman. 100% of the people who have ever said this to me are men.

It's an obnoxious dominance move (are you also young, or young looking? Short and/or slight of frame? give off an air of apology)--and you answer it with a Miss Manners-ninja counter dominance move: only acknowledge the remark with a slightly arched brow (or the genteel, "oh, really?" death glare, for someone who needs a job from you or is otherwise completely out of line), and answer in your own time frame anyway. Ruffling you/getting a rise out of you = bully win.

Just a few millimeters worth of eyebrow movement, a poker face, and refusing to break your stride to acknowledge rudeness (or lewdness) is your friend in many of these situations, my fellow lady. It's almost nothing, and I've had the side benefit of it winning me an absurd amount of respect/high fives from (friendly) male witnesses--you're answering alpha with alpha, without diminishing yourself or acting like a jackass bro.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:18 AM on January 10 [30 favorites]

"Do not interrupt me when I am preparing to give you an answer to your question, otherwise you will never get the information you seek."

"If you have a habit of interrupting people before they are able to give you a response to a question you've just asked, you may not be a good fit for our team."

"I will have to get back to you another time when you are not preventing me from answering the question you just asked by not letting me speak."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:22 AM on January 10 [8 favorites]

"Just a moment" should work.

I wonder if your response time is perhaps a little longer than you think it is? It seems weird that people would engage with you in that manner with any frequency, so maybe they think you didn't hear them?
posted by xingcat at 10:23 AM on January 10 [21 favorites]

First question: "What? Excuse me?" [they repeat the question] "What?" [continue as long as needed]

For your second and third questions, it sounds like maybe you don't show any physical reaction during this three second thought period. Changing your body language slightly, looking up and to the side, or even saying "one moment" will all at least give the impression that you have heard the question being asked.

I have a coworker who sometimes just refuses to respond to questions if he doesn't feel like they need to be answered. He won't say anything, won't look at you, won't even flinch when you ask him. It's fucking frustrating. It's frustrating because it makes me feel like I'm not an actual human being when I'm standing there asking him a question and he is blatantly ignoring me. It's very dismissive.

So, if there's a chance that YOUR natural response to questions is to ponder them for a short time without even reacting a tiny bit (even if you're not trying to be a jerk about it!) try mixing that up.

But I agree, if they are being demanding about getting an answer from you immediately, they are being rude. It is fair to cooly say, "I'm answering you," in a calm voice, and then from there proceeding on to your actual response.
posted by phunniemee at 10:25 AM on January 10 [14 favorites]

"I'm asking you a question!" is pretty confrontational. If someone says that to you, you would be within your rights to say, "Please don't speak to me that way."

Repeating a question, on the other hand, doesn't strike me as rude necessarily, depending on the context. Three seconds is kind of a long time for radio silence in many conversations. If you don't react in any way for three seconds (for example by clearly checking your calendar if someone sitting across from you asks you a question about scheduling, or verbalizing something if it's a phone conversation, even "let me check" or "hmm."), the person may just think you didn't hear the question.
posted by payoto at 10:26 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Most people have a time filling tic or audible pause like "Um." Since this is happening to you repeatedly it's possible that you respond to questions with more of a "freeze" and people just don't think you've heard them. I'm female and I don't think this has ever happened to me.
posted by headnsouth at 10:27 AM on January 10 [23 favorites]

Re: the second example. I agree that this is really rude behavior, but I wonder if there is something you can do to reduce the frequency? I have worked with super impatient people like this before (both men and women) and it has taught me that these people need to see a super obvious facial expression that indicates "I'm thinking." I guess I have a bit of a deadpan/pokerface/blank stare thing going on when I think, so it looks like I didn't hear or process what was said. To counter that I have started to make a really obvious "thinking face." It helps.

As far as the first example, man, I would just stick with "uh, I'm not telling you that." Weirdos.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:27 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Hold up a finger and say, "One sec."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 10:27 AM on January 10

I trust that you're experiencing this, but as a(nother) woman I can say I can't think of a time this has happened to me. I'm obviously not as sensitive to it as you are, but it's a little strange that this is an ongoing problem of such magnitude. It is indeed rude that people are being so rushed with you, but I wonder if your facial expression or affect is flat when you're thinking so they think you've tuned out or something? Or that the time you're spending thinking is longer than three seconds? What would happen if you try saying "hmmm" or some other signifier that "I'm thinking?"

When people do it, though, I would just say "yes, I'm thinking of an answer..." and give them a bit of a "calm down" look.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:28 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Are you giving any indication that you have actually heard the question? Like, a head tilt, a raised eyebrow, moving your eyes, putting your hand to your temple? Because 3 seconds with no talking and no response at all is actually kind of a long time.

I mean, it sounds like at least some of these people are being rude, but it also seems like your "I'm thinking about this" signals are not getting through somehow.
posted by mskyle at 10:29 AM on January 10 [13 favorites]

I say "I'm thinking!" in the same tone they used. So if they are playful I answer in kind, if they are loud or sarcastic, I am same.
posted by fshgrl at 10:29 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]

It may be that you know a lot of assholes, but without wanting to blame the victim there is a possibility that you have some communication traits that have a tendency to bring this upon you. That is, when someone asks a question and one needs to think before replying one would normally deploy a range of metacommunicative signals to show "I have heard your question and am thinking of an answer." This might be as blatant as saying outloud "how many widgets did we sell last year? Let me see..." or as subtle as cocking your head and looking upwards. It may be that you have a tendency to remain reasonably impassive as you collect your thoughts, which in turn makes your interlocutors feel anxious that you simply didn't hear them.
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]

You can't wait a few seconds for me to think of the answer? I am not exaggerating when I say this happens after 3 seconds of deliberation.

Three seconds is a LONG time for someone to not respond to a question, however, even if it isn't a long time to wait for an answer. If you are not giving any visible or audible sign that you are thinking about it then three seconds will look like you're ignoring or didn't hear. I don't know how you respond, but if you have a blank/neutral face while you are thinking and don't go "um...." or react or something then I'd be inclined to think you didn't hear the question.

Within a conversation, I think a 3 second pause with no response at all (physical or verbal) would make it not unreasonable to repeat the question or say "did you hear me?" or something. People have different conversational rhythms and speeds and to me, 3 seconds would feel like a lifetime for no response at all (again, if that is the case).

Try saying "Let me think about that" or "Um" and THEN do the pause and see if it still happens. I suspect it is a lack of any response that is the issue. This may be your problem, being as several people have the same response to it.
posted by Brockles at 10:34 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Me: [Thinks about when I will be able to get back to him for roughly 3 seconds]

First off, "Answer me right now" and its ilk can be tactics of aggression, absolutely. However, three seconds is an eternity in a conversation. I can say the entire alphabet in three seconds (I just checked). As others have suggested, train yourself to give a more apparent response when you're thinking of an answer. I'd be willing to bet that the frequency of these incidents drops drastically once you do that.
posted by Etrigan at 10:35 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Although as I said above I don't recall this ever happening to me, I do get a lot of "what's wrong" and "are you ok" because my thinking (reading, writing...) face is very frowny. So do consider your affect. It's so easy to be completely unaware of what your expression is conveying to others.
posted by headnsouth at 10:39 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

"how many times have you had sex?" "that's none of your fucking business!"

"when will i hear back? when will i hear back?" "if you keep pestering me like that, never!"

"how many conveyor belts have we sold this month? i'm asking you a question!" "i only respond to polite questions. try a little better tomorrow."
posted by bruce at 10:39 AM on January 10

If you are a bit of a daydreamer or kind of spacy, or don't give strong listening cues, they may not see that you have heard and are thinking. So obvious "thinking" cues could be good; finger on chin, head tilt, look up into air, eyebrow wrinkle.

If they still start in with the insanely rude "I'm asking you a question," then 100% give them the bitchiest face you could ever bitch. Snarly. I mean think in your head "who the fuck raised you?"

Then say, "excuse me?"

Wait for their response. They should either back down, or escalate: "I said I asked you a question."

"Oh I heard you alright. Now I'm just waiting for some manners."

And wait. If they really care about your answer, they'll back down. If they further escalate

"Well, now you don't get my answer with an attitude like that!"

Bonus points if you get THEM to leave first; but you are totally ok to walk away as well.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:40 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]

On the first, I'd recommend "that's none of your business" or "that's a rude question" is a better response than "I will not answer that", because it clarifies that the problem is their asking an inappropriate question in the first place, not your unwillingness to answer that.

On the second, since this seems to be happening to you on a regular basis, I'd suggest that you might not be displaying clear signs of having heard the request at all. You might be thinking of a response, but unless you signal that process in a verbal or nonverbal way, you'll be interpreted as not hearing/ignoring the question.

To test that theory, the next time someone asks you a question that requires thought, tilt your head thoughtfully and say "hmm" as you begin to think about it. Or, make eye contact and tilt your head. Or just say "Hmm, let me think." Just some kind of acknowledgement that "I heard you, I understood you, and now I'm considering my response."

This is rooted, by the way, in the idea that social interaction (including non-verbal/verbal acknowledgement that you've heard someone's question) is a learned behavior, and you may have just not learned this aspect of it. Many children drive their parents crazy until they learn how to do it, because children aren't always listening, so (seemingly) half the time there's no response because they haven't heard the question, and the other half they're just thinking of an answer and don't understand why they're getting asked the question again.
posted by davejay at 10:40 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Three seconds is a LONG time for someone to not respond to a question, however, even if it isn't a long time to wait for an answer.

Yes/no. Lots of people can think on their feet; and some just don't. I've had friends who do take this extra-ordinarily long time, and even longer, to think up an answer because, you know, they're actually thinking about the question. I've learned to STFU and wait for their answer. Because that's a conversation. If I actually want to hear THEIR answer and not just some pat BS, I wait.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:41 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Three seconds of silence is the conversational equivalent of completely forever. It doesn't justify the kind of rudeness you describe, but it's also not a pause you can reasonably take in a conversation without giving off some indication that you actually heard and intend to respond to the person's question. That might be as little 'ummm' or as much as 'hang on, I'll have to figure that out'. But you have to acknowledge that a person has spoken to you and you intend to reply.

I think once you've already paused for 3 seconds and pissed them off, your best bet is probably something like "Sorry, just mentally gathering that info." Or, in the case of the job interviewee, "Well, having just had that exchange, I think we can safely say right now that you're not hired."

In the first case, Miss Manners often recommends "Why do you ask?" when people ask rude questions, but I dunno, I'm not sure it would help with someone who has just asked you how many people you've had sex with as part of accusing you of cheating.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

How do I respond to this? (Scenario 1)

"Why would I tell YOU that?" has worked for me.

"What's wrong with your manners?" has worked for Russell Brand. (at 4:39)

How do I respond to this? (Scenario 2)

BTW, I agree with you, OP, those men where extremely rude to you.

One way to make yourself less vulnerable to that type of rudeness would be to start using nonverbal fillers such as "um…" as @headnsouth has suggested, together with @joan_holloway's "thinking face" suggestion.
posted by hush at 10:42 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Interviewee: So when will I hear back? When will I hear back? When will I hear back? When. Will. I. Hear. Back?

Okay, if a person who wants you to give them a job is speaking to you with outright hostility, you can just tell them that they need to leave right now or you'll call security.

The only other excuse to respond like that (well, not even then, but I'm being generous) would be if your face is making a face of complete incomprehension while you think you're making a thinking face. Maybe you have Confusing Thinking Face. (I had to work on my own similar problem, which was Uncertain Thinking Face, and then nobody ever believed my answers.)

So, Phase I, I would say try using a verbal placeholder. "Let me think..." or "Oh, I'd say, hmm..."

Normal polite people, even if they can't read your facial expression, will be totally fine with that.

Rude people who ask rude questions or bark at you for answers can be backed off with, "What is wrong with you? Why would you ask that/why are you talking to me like that?" Ask this with genuine curiosity. Wait for them to answer you, so they hear their own answers out loud. It should nip that behavior in the bud pretty quickly.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:46 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Interviewee: So when will I hear back? When will I hear back? When will I hear back? When. Will. I. Hear. Back?

Seriously? "I can give you an answer right now. We won't be hiring you. Good day, sir."
posted by hades at 10:49 AM on January 10 [8 favorites]

(It would be different if they said "Enchanting Grasshopper?" if they thought I hadn't heard, or wanted to know why I wasn't answering or something, but that's not what they're doing.)

I dunno, I don't really think you're the problem here. Someone who was interviewing for a job with you acted this way? WTF? And "I asked you a question" seems needlessly confrontational, even if you are accurately representing the THREE (3) seconds you take to respond (which reminds me of the AskMe about why Jane Eyre would say there was a "ten-minute" pause in conversation, and most of the answers said that people just use certain phrases to describe a short pause and that was what they said in the late 1800s, but I digress).

Anyway, I agree with Diablevert's answer for Situation #2. For #1, a simple "fuck off" would work, or "that's a rude question" if you're not a foul-mouthed jerk like me.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:50 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I used to do Speech and Debate, and during that time I learned how invaluable it is to be able to speak while thinking of an answer to a question. Since I did an event which involved being questioned on the fly by other competitors, I quickly realized that if I didn't know the answer immediately, I had two options: say nothing for the few seconds I was thinking about it, which would have made me lose all credibility, OR begin spouting some meaningless bullshit WHILE thinking about it.

Like, if someone asked me a question I couldn't immediately think of an answer to, I'd start thinking about it and at the same time, probably start saying something like "That's an excellent question, and of course [thing you just said] is of serious concern to many people. However, I think you'll find" and by that time, a few seconds later, I have the beginnings of a real answer, having had a little time to consider it. I just did the equivalent of a cheap magician's trick to make them think I didn't have to think about it.

I'm not saying these people aren't being shockingly rude. But you can't make them any less rude, so you gotta manage them somehow.

TL;DR: Try just saying "well, let me think about that" or just "hmm, well..."
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:54 AM on January 10 [8 favorites]

You gotta hang with different peeps if you continuously asked how many times you had sex. Wtf. So you can jet say something rude.

I'm former HR. So I'm kinda stunned that as the interviewer (there is a definite power imbalance here, and YOU, as the interviewer have the advantage), you have to think about when they will here back from you. Why? That's akin to them asking "how much will I get paid?"





Yeah. Way too long. This is something you should have at the tip of your tongue.

"Doctor, when will I here the results of my biopsy?" Nobody wants the doctor to sit and ponder as if they're asking an oracle when the major event in their life is going to happen. This is something that should be known even before the question is asked.

Just like its out of respect for the job applicant, you already know when you are going to tell them whether they get the job or not without them having to ask you.

That's pretty basic. The fact that you don't know, kinda tells me how you are treating the power imbalance in the situation.

I think this is insanely disrespectful, and have ended relationships (not necessarily romantic ones, but sometimes. Acquaintanceships?) over being spoken to this

Wow. Maybe you should consider that others aren't the problem, and that this bug happening over and over again is a function of your behavior and not the others.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:02 AM on January 10 [11 favorites]

I'm thinking on the latter two, you might be getting some particularly obnoxious responses and you can definitely treat them like they're being obnoxious, because they are. But you might very well be doing this in a way that lots of other people are discomfited because you're not expressing that you're actually considering an answer, and those other people, not being completely obnoxious, aren't saying anything about it. It sounds like this is happening on a regular basis over a long period of time, and I don't think you're being just particularly unlucky with people, I think that you're exhibiting some behavior here that's just slightly outside normal. Give people some cues and the obnoxious ones may be a little less so, but everybody will like interacting with you better.

On the first, I tend towards something along the lines of, "What the hell kind of question is that?" I definitely agree that you need to express this in the way that puts the faux pas on them, not you. I mean, in a friendly conversation with someone you're relatively comfortable with, if you just don't like talking about that kind of thing, you can be nice and put it more, "I hate talking about that sort of thing, can we change the subject?" But if the person involved is not someone who's done stuff to warrant you being more charitable towards them, yeah, just tell them they're being offensive.
posted by Sequence at 11:06 AM on January 10

At my job I get asked a lot of questions that I can't answer immediately, and on top of that, I'm not a quick thinker in conversations. However, I always respond immediately with something like "hm" or "one second" or "let me look that up." Work on developing an immediate response reflex; it'll buy you all sorts of time.

I also fully admit to deliberately taking longer to respond when people request rudely. If someone comes up to me saying "could you let me know XYZ when you get a moment?" I'll get them XYZ right away if I can. If someone is like "Tell me about XYZ RIGHT NOW," I'm more likely to say "I'm in the middle of something right now, can I get back to you when I'm done?" and take my sweet time. I doubt anyone actually learns from it, but it makes me feel better.

For the rude questions, "that's a personal question" or "why do you ask?" or "that isn't any of your business" will suffice.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:10 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

"I will not answer that" is a fine answer to your first example.

In your other two examples, while that interviewee sounds like a nut for responding the way he did (though you really should have a canned immediate response for that kind of question if you're interviewing people for a job), I'm inclined to agree with those who've said you might not look like you've actually heard the question. The person who asked might become incited because they think you're purposely ignoring them or are daydreaming while they're standing there in front of you.

I know a guy who generally responds to questions initially by not making any kind of verbal or visible acknowledgement that he even heard me, and it took me a while of getting to know him to understand that he actually did hear what I said and is working on formulating a response when he does that. I know him well enough to know he's not trying to be rude, but it can easily come across like that when people don't know what's going on in your head. I don't think gender plays a role here.

So my advice is to work on displaying to people that you've heard their question and are considering it. For example, if you're facing a certain direction and someone in another direction asks you something, pause what you're doing and maybe turn around to face them while you're thinking about it. If they pester you for a response, just say "I'm thinking about it," or, if you need to do more research before you can answer them accurately, "Let me look into that."
posted by wondermouse at 11:12 AM on January 10

The two words you want to fling back at all of these people are "excuse me?" preferably with an eyebrow raise and/or glare. Though the puppy response from 2 might only require the eyebrow raise.
posted by heyjude at 11:15 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

nthing other observations that maybe your body language isn't clear that you're thinking. Why not start the process with a "let me see..." or "hmm, let me think about that..."
posted by colin_l at 11:25 AM on January 10

If someone asks you how many times you've had sex, turn and leave and never talk to that person again for the rest of your life in any context unless you are required to by a job or the law.

As for the other thing, it's hard for me to tell what's really going on there. I do get the impression that maybe you're waiting way too long to respond to people and that you're maybe not giving expected nonverbal cues to indicate that you heard the question or that you're willing to answer it ever. But I'm hesitant to jump to that as an explanation, because I'm a man and it very well may be that this is conduct to which women are subjected and I've just not experienced it the way you have.
posted by The World Famous at 11:34 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

The numbers are not on your side - it's you, not them.

Ask someone you trust and ask for live, constructive critiques on your response and body language.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:49 AM on January 10 [5 favorites]

I think your question is missing some details that are necessary to give helpful answers.

It's not clear what you're looking for here. I mean, you've expressed here that it infuriates you when someone says "I am asking you a question," so why can you not simply explain to these people, just like you have to us, that this annoys you and you consider it rude? You know, "use your words" (god I hate that phrase, but it seems apt here) Are you looking for a Wildean bon mot?

I'm kinda known for pausing in the middle of sentences, for a minute or more, as I search for le mot juste, much to the amusement of the people who used to work for me. And if I detected eye rolling or restlessness, I would say "simmer down, you can't rush greatness."

(Also -- it's clear that a number of commenters here have misinterpreted your question. As I read your question, you are saying that guys who ask how many times you've had sex are saying "I'm asking you a question" when you pause to think of an answer. You're not looking for a response to the question about your sexual history.)
posted by jayder at 12:12 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I agree with those saying that three seconds is an eternity to not at least acknowledge that you've been asked a question. I say this as someone who married into an entire family of people who take their own sweet time in pondering every question. I know that's just their speed but the thing is that unless you at least say "Well . . . " or "Um . . ." or something, I have no way of knowing whether you even heard me. And sometimes of course they don't hear me. So I can either stand there forever politely waiting for an answer that never comes, or ask again while they're still gathering their thoughts. The solution is just to give some clue that you've heard the question and an answer will be forthcoming sometime this century. If the question is none of their business, that's another story, but for normal questions, I think it's on you to play the conversation game in a more conventional way.
posted by HotToddy at 12:16 PM on January 10

Also, I'm a woman--a very small woman with a small voice who is subject to her fair share of sexist bullshit--but I've never had this happen to me, ever, in nearly five decades, so the fact that it's such a frequent problem for you makes me think that you're probably doing something a bit unusual to provoke these responses.
posted by HotToddy at 12:21 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I wonder if maybe you aren't telegraphing your comprehension with gestures/facial expressions etc. This comes up a lot when I'm talking to someone who is doing something else, like a handicraft or cooking or something. Sometimes their whole body gets wrapped up in that task and the usual comprehension tics go away entirely, so I have to stop talking and say "Are you listening?" or something that someone might think is rude. As soon as you've heard and understood a question, it's customary to at least nod your head, or say a filler phrase like "Let's see..." or "Yes..." or even grunt!
posted by telegraph at 12:23 PM on January 10

I definitely agree with those who have suggested that I don't show really obvious "I'm thinking" gestures. That is definitely true, although I don't think that it warrants speaking to me that way, because the overwhelming majority of people I interact with don't. They generally just wait or simply repeat the question. For the record, it's not like this happens with every question I'm asked- I usually don't need to pause. I just finished a four month contract, for example, and not one single person said this. (Another thing I don't know whether or not is relevant- a superior has never said this to me.)
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:28 PM on January 10

Interviewee: So when will I hear back? When will I hear back? When will I hear back? When. Will. I. Hear. Back?

I'm pretty sure the best way to answer this specific scenario is something along the lines of "Oh, I'll tell you right now. You're not a good fit. Good luck with your search."

If you're actually hiring people who speak to you this way in an interview -- the time during which they are probably at their most respectful -- you're all be guaranteeing that someone will be rude to you when they're at work.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:34 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

@jayder: regarding the men asking me the number of people I've had sex with, I am asking for a response to them saying "I'm asking you a question" after I've told them I'm not going to answer that insane question.

posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:40 PM on January 10

I am asking for a response to them saying "I'm asking you a question" after I've told them I'm not going to answer that insane question.

"And I'm not answering it. So, how about that local sports team?"
posted by Etrigan at 12:42 PM on January 10

regarding the men asking me the number of people I've had sex with, I am asking for a response to them saying "I'm asking you a question" after I've told them I'm not going to answer that insane question.

Respond by either leaving or asking them to leave. Do not continue the conversation. Their question is a conversation-ender, and their "I'm asking you a question" confirms that the conversation is over. If you must say something in addition to responding by leaving, what you should say is "I heard your question, and we're done. Goodbye."
posted by The World Famous at 1:05 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

When I was working as a canvasser and would frequently have people demand to have their weird-ass rhetorical questions answered NOW! I would say, "Do you want my answer, or do you just want to make mouth noises?"

To, "How many times have you had sex," I might reply, "Does your mom count?"
posted by klangklangston at 1:05 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]

regarding the men asking me the number of people I've had sex with, I am asking for a response to them saying "I'm asking you a question" after I've told them I'm not going to answer that insane question.

Ask them "do you see any stirrups?" When they say no, then say, "Right. So you're not my gynecologist. That's what I thought." Then let that little silence play out.

Seriously, someone who says that is beyond the pale, and "that's none of your goddam business" is a perfectly acceptable answer. If your inner Judith Martin absolutely requires it, you could go with "I have given you all the answer you're going to get." Or, you know, just turn and walk away without a word. Even Miss Manners would approve The Cut Direct if someone's being that much of a raging douchenozzle.
posted by Diablevert at 1:09 PM on January 10

It doesn't warrant speaking to you that way, but if you have an occasional behavior that slightly bewilders most people to talk to you, basically, the most obnoxious of those people will be most obnoxious about it. The sharpest retort is probably not going to be enough to get through the thickest of skulls; it's better to be concerned with how sensible people are reading you than how the obnoxious ones are. The obnoxious ones are just a bellweather.

Not that snarky retorts are bad, to the extent that they make you feel a bit better about it, but there are limits to how much they can achieve.
posted by Sequence at 1:14 PM on January 10

That is definitely true, although I don't think that it warrants speaking to me that way, because the overwhelming majority of people I interact with don't. They generally just wait or simply repeat the question.

Honestly, it does sound to me like your feedback is lacking (and hence the actual problem) and at least some of the styles of responses range from accommodating/polite (repeating the question) to frustrated or irritated at the perceived ignoring. The more benevolent types just ask you to repeat the question, the more irritable/impatient/arseholes get snotty.

BUT that bit of feedback suggests this is a pretty widespread scenario that you yourself are causing by not being communicative as to why you are being, um, uncommunicative. Does that make sense? The specific examples are kind of a distraction and how to deal with the more unpleasant reactions to the underlying issue isn't really the problem you need to fix. You don't see the polite responses as a symptom but only the negative ones, but the polite responses are very much indicators of a common problem in people understanding you. If even polite people are repeating the question because you haven't responded at all (physically or otherwise) to acknowledging a question being asked then your communication style is the issue. The spread of results from different types of people has given you a sub set you find offensive. But the offensive subest isn't necessarily the thing you need to combat.

regarding the men asking me the number of people I've had sex with, I am asking for a response to them saying "I'm asking you a question" after I've told them I'm not going to answer that insane question.

This, to me, doesn't seem at all relevant to the rest of the question. It's not at all related to the other issue you seem to be (primarily?) describing. You have two issues :

1: An established behaviour of 'non-response' to being asked a question that causes confusion and conflict in the persons you are (perceived to be) ignoring/not hearing

2: You are asked a personal question that you actively refuse to answer yet this is not respected. The people ignoring the refusal to answer are not at all similar to the people that are blunt/rude to the point 1 responses, even if they are the same people to some extent.

Point 1 is something you probably need to change and twee or smart responses is probably harmful if you are perceived to be the issue by the rest of the conversation participants. Point 2's answer is absolutely the other person's problem to fix and my response would be "I told you I'm not answering that, mind your own damn business".

Point 2 isn't even related to the rest of this question, unless I am misreading it entirely. Are you conflating the two through some other assumption?
posted by Brockles at 1:15 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Ask them "do you see any stirrups?" When they say no, then say, "Right. So you're not my gynecologist. That's what I thought." Then let that little silence play out.

A gynecologist has no business asking a patient that question.

The World Famous has it: "We're done here."
posted by headnsouth at 1:16 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

You need to repeat the question back to them, to acknowledge that you heard it, and to give you some time.

Coworker: How many conveyer belts have we sold this month?

Me: How many this month? (By this point you'll have worked out what to say next, like "I'll have to check my records" or "37" or whatever.)

You can also ask for clarification instead of repeating the question, e.g.

Me: Calendar month or last 30 days?
posted by w0mbat at 2:02 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Give them the disarmingest smile you've got and say:
"Yes. And I'm making you wait."
posted by Namlit at 2:59 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Me: Calendar month or last 30 days?

I was skimming and totally read this as a sarcastic response to the number of sex partners question. I like it.

posted by sunset in snow country at 4:04 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]

"I heard your question" if you're feeling generous.

"No, now you're demanding an answer" if you're not.
posted by carsonb at 5:55 PM on January 10

As far as the first type of scenario goes, if someone demands that you answer an inappropriate question after you've already told them you won't, you should just tell them to fuck off or whatever variant of that general sentiment is appropriate for the politeness level required by the circumstances.

As far as the second type of scenario goes, if you're having this problem over and over with different people then it seems like at least some of the problem might be with you. Not saying that you're wrong but you might be out of step with the local dominant cultural norms.

I say this from the perspective of someone on the other side of these sorts of exchanges -- I have never had anyone say "I asked you a question" to me but I've had to say that to other people. I don't do it to be rude or mean or domineering but because I genuinely can't tell from their body language and (lack of) verbal response whether they even heard me talking much less understood that I was asking them a non-rhetorical question. I especially have this problem with my husband, who is both slightly hard of hearing and from the US South, which culturally has a slower speaking speed and longer conversational pauses than the part of the country I'm from. My husband's natural and/or culturally ingrained conversational style often leaves me wondering whether he's listening.

So, is it possible that the speaking speed, conversational pause length, and response time you were raised with or that comes naturally to you is slower than the local dominant cultural norms or the norms of the subset of the population you interact with professionally? 

There is no objectively "right" speaking speed, conversational pause length, or response time. These are all cultural values that vary tremendously around the world and even from region to region within the US. I don't know if the same is true for the UK but given the huge regional variance in accents I wouldn't be surprised if these other aspects of speaking vary too.

If your natural communication style is out of step with the local dominant communication style then unfortunately the onus is on you to adapt. I'm not just saying this because your style seems different from mine -- I sincerely believe it goes both ways and since moving to the US South I've had to learn to be more patient in conversations (something I still struggle with) lest I come off as overbearing and rude.

If you think that sort of mismatch could explain some of the frequency of your problem then you might try to condition yourself to automatically make some sort of placeholder noise ("hmmmmmmm" or "uhhhhhhhh") while you're thinking. This lets the person you're talking to know that you've heard their question and are thinking of a response, and the placeholder noise basically holds on to your turn to speak until your words are ready whereas too much dead air (with "too much" being one of those culturally subjective things) can come across as withdrawal from the conversation.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:11 PM on January 10

Addendum: It's also possible that your communication style is in line with the local norms and the "I asked you a question" people are the ones out of step. If you're in a field or location that mixes people from different backgrounds, that could explain why you encounter this problem so frequently. In that case, instead of changing your own behavior, you might just need to change your perception of *their* behavior by understanding that they're probably not trying to be mean or rude or domineering, they just haven't adapted to local norms (yet).
posted by Jacqueline at 6:19 PM on January 10

FYI, one reason many of us hate modern cell phones is the processing delay that comes from digital signal processing the sounds we make, latencies in the network elements from one end to the other, and DSP at the far end. Sometimes, it adds up to 0.2 seconds, and in rare cases, more. It's maddening, because we interpret the delay with emotional content, even though it is purely technical.

A slight pause raises uncertainty about how/if something was received at all and if so, how it was interpreted. When I chat with someone who delays, the delay can be interpreted as judgmental, skeptical, dicey-to-the-point-that-subtext-is-involved, discounting, anger, and that's just a brief list. If I am already in a tense comms environment, possibilities expand, all negative.

If your in-person speech patterns are adding a similar artifact, even unintentionally, it may explain what is happening to you more than sexism. (Many boy-related comms ARE filled with sexism, but even if your anecdotal perceptions ARE correct, it could be the normal male/female, cross-cultural communication barrier most of us posit. ) That doesn't relieve your conversational partner of the burden of politeness, but it may explain how the typical ignorance of good manners might get put on display.

Any chance you can ask a trusted friend to see if this applies to your speech patterns? Can you record/video some interactions for later analysis?

Of the many things I hate, it's when I offend someone with my habits and don't know what my habits are. Happens weekly. If you are partly responsible, you might save yourself some grief through self-analysis.

We're little boxes of separate goods, who interact with other boxes of goods whose contents we don't see, and have to divine from flimsy clues. All we have for clues is sound, inflection, timing, volume, and visual accompaniments that hint of a distant emotional environment. (My beagle knows when I am kidding or serious by critical observation of these clues. No kidding. She focuses on my face when I am talking sht to her. )
posted by FauxScot at 11:29 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Can you ask a couple of friends to practice with you and give you feedback on your delayed answering? As suggested, you might have a face that just goes neutral when you're thinking, so you have to make a special effort to add extra communication to compensate. Just tilting your head and going "mm, hmmm" is enough to fill in the gap before you answer.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:35 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

ask a couple of friends to practice

GREAT idea. You could also practice in front of a mirror like some actors do to refine their expressive palette.

(For some reason I'm not getting John Stewart's "rrrreallly?"-look out of my mind. Would save you words.)
posted by Namlit at 4:09 AM on January 11

Oh Well

To paraphrase Peter Green:

Don't rush me while I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
posted by maggieb at 1:50 PM on January 11

Never underestimate the power of "No thank you."
posted by macinchik at 2:11 AM on January 22

The people who ask you personal, inappropriate sex questions sound like bad, even predatory people. If they don't care about being polite to you, you shouldn't worry about being polite to them. At least say, loudly, "That's a rude question. Do you ask that often?" Or, "Interestingly enough, a perverted old man asked me the same question the other day. That's none of your business." Try not to spend time with disgusting people like that.
posted by tenlives at 12:53 PM on March 5

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