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Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Aggressive Question: Attack without Assertion

Questions can be used aggressively. Using questions in this way can hamper communication and create bad feelings in a relationship. There are several ways this can happen:
  1. Answering a question with a question
  2. Asking a question when a statement would be clearer and more assertive
  3. Asking a question when you feel judgmental toward the other person
Answering a question with a question can be a way to avoid or push away the questioner. This inhibits a working relationship.
  • Suppose someone says, "What is your plan for starting the new project we're supposed to work on together?"
  • If you respond, "Why are you in such a hurry to start?" you have responded in a mildly aggressive way. Instead of giving the questioner a plan of action, you are pushing away the request and implying that they are in error for asking you.
Asking a question when a statement would be clearer and more assertive is another way to avoid connection in a relationship.
  • Your husband says, "When do you think you'll be ready to go to the restaurant?" with a stressed tone in his voice
  • Although you may say, "I'll be ready in a few minutes," your response is likely to feel defensive both to you and to him.
  • If we assume his wish is to go out the door sooner than later, then he would have been clearer and more assertive by saying, "I'm hungry. I'd like to leave for the restaurant before 6 PM." You would not feel attacked and as if you need to defend and he would have clearly stated his wish.
Asking a question when you feel judgmental toward another person is usually not about getting the answer to the question but rather about getting a jab in toward the other person.
  • What makes you think that doing it that way will work?
  • Why would you decide to drive on North Street instead of South Street?
  • Did you think the dog would just train herself?
In working on speaking up for yourself, it's helpful to look at how both you and the people in your life use questions. Recognizing the possible aggressive use of questions can help you to decide for yourself about how to participate in a conversation.

The mildest response to an aggressive use of questioning is to look at the other person and say empathically, "I imagine you want to say something to me about XXX. I could hear it much better if you simply said it rather than asking me a question."

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