Resilience Tip - Statement Questions
Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.
Ever notice how sometimes people ask a question when they really do not have a question? Recently I approached an office building where the gate at the entrance booth was open. I pulled up past the gate to the window where the guard was sitting, and opened my window to say where I was headed. The guard asked: “Why did you pull up past the gate?” I attempted to answer. However, as the guard repeated the question, I noticed a slightly annoyed and slightly frustrated feeling growing inside me. It was not, only, that the mild attack felt unjustified. I slowly realized that he was asking me a question that actually had no satisfying answer, because he was not actually interested in the question. No “answer” would have satisfied him because (I believe) what he really wanted was to have me know his annoyance that I had acted inappropriately and should act differently in the future. That is a statement, not a question.
A bit later I was sitting with clients in this well-guarded building. One partner, Dina, said to the other partner, Esther: “Why didn’t you read the report I sent you?” Esther responded: “I looked at it briefly. I didn’t read the whole thing. I trusted you that it was fine.” And then Dina: “But why didn’t you read the details?” At this point that difficult-to-define feeling began growing in the room, as Esther stammered to answer the question. After another round or two it became clear, it was no longer a question. What became clear (through discovery questioning) was that Dina wanted Esther to know that she wanted Esther’s input on the report. Dina wanted the feeling of partnership, of not having all the responsibility of this particularly important report on her shoulders alone. That is a statement, not a question.
Statement questions are problematic for two main reasons. First, they do not get the desired result; the desired communication does not take place. If Dina had continued to repeat her question to Esther, and even if Esther had managed to answer, through the question alone Esther would not have known that her reading the report was important to Dina, nor why it was important. The question could, alternatively, have reflected Dina’s anger at Esther that Esther never does the things she says she will. Lack of clear, direct communication, including making a statement when there is a statement to be made; reduces the chance of the communicator getting their intended result.
Secondly, statement questions are problematic because they tend to raise unpleasant feelings in both sides. The questioner is likely to feel frustrated or angry because their desired result is still missing (e.g., agreement on how the partners will share responsibilities in future important tasks). The receiver is likely to feel frustrated or angry because they feel attacked for a reason not yet clear to them, and/or that there is an expectation of them that they feel unable to fulfill. Both sides are also likely to have the generally unpleasant feeling of being misunderstood. If the relationship is an important one, and the communication is not clarified, the relationship may suffer.
Statement questions can pop up in all kinds of settings. If you suspect one, answer the best you can, and if the question continues, try asking: “Is there also something you would like to tell me?” This can help reduce frustration, and better address the real issue at hand.
Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners
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