The other week a contractor friend was at my house doing some work with me. He had promised to come do some work on his day off because I had helped him earlier in the week on my day off. Unfortunately, when he arrived he was not his normal friendly self because his wife was angry with him – not a new experience for any husband – and the domino effect was put in place where he decided to take his hurt out on me. We have a strong history and he is someone I really value, but this day, in one word, brutal. Everything was negative and a jab, and I just took it because I didn’t want to do anything to prevent him from finishing the job he was there to do. I essentially took my own advice and bit my tongue for the greater good of accomplishing my goal of getting the job done. After he was gone, however, it was time for me to vent out my frustrations. I knew he was having a bad day and he does actually respect me, but I was still hurt by his many comments and jabs. I shared these feelings with my wife, and out of her desire to protect me she simply said, “Just hire a different contractor to finish the work.” This is a simple statement and not a bad one, buutttttttt after a day of criticism this comment felt like more criticism and pushed me over the edge to completely shut down and shut up. Later that night, I ended up talking with my mom and I told her what happened with my contractor. After listening she asked me a question: “Have you thought about hiring a different contractor?” This is almost exactly what my wife had said to me, so logic would say that if my wife’s statement upset me, so should this, buuuuttttttttt it didn’t. Instead of a statement, it was a question. Statements can often come across as “You’re stupid; here’s your answer.” Statements can really tick people off because it can feel like you’re talking down to them. Questions are great because they are empowering. They are more about giving people a chance to answer for themselves. When I was asked this question by my mom I could say “Yes, I have,” or “That’s a good question.” With my wife’s statement it felt like “Smarten up, stupid.” Questions have a gentleness and equality to them. They allow you to carry on the conversation like an equal rather than feeling like you’re somehow less than the other person and need to justify yourself. Of course, when I say ask a question, don’t use a question like “What are you, stupid?” and be like “It’s a question; why are you upset?” The question needs to be suggestive and not insulting or bossy.
If you have an important point to share with someone, consider finding a way to present it in question form as a way to reduce the chance of them attacking you. Yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m telling you in statement form that you should use questions to get your point across, but I’m not in a conversation with you and responding to something you’ve told me. I’m simply sharing a lesson I learned. I hope that makes sense… again, another statement because it suits this moment.
This week may you find the value in asking questions.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people