Friday, August 21, 2020

She Can't Make Up Her Mind

I will not take Carolyn Hax to task for missing the point here. After all, she wants to teach this couple how to cooperate and to compromise. 

Their issue is communication. He asks her a Yes-or-No question and she equivocates. She provides context. She does not answer the question. He finds this frustrating and annoying.

As noted, Hax tries to teach them a way to split the difference. Which is fine. And yet, the real issue involves gender differences. The letter writer, who dubs herself Bristling, would do well to read Deborah Tannen’s well-known studies about how men and women use different conversational strategies. Among the best known is: You Just Don’t Understand. 

Unfortunately for us, Bristling does not offer any sampled conversational contretemps. So we do not know whether her husband was asking her whether she wanted to go out for Chinese food or whether he was asking her for the time of day. For all I know he might be a politician or a litigator, someone who spends his professional time asking questions that require a Yes-or-No answer. We do not know whether the questions are unclear, imprecise or ambiguous. Asking whether she walked the dog is not the same as asking whether she believes in angels. 

Anyway, here is the letter:

My husband of 10 years and I have a communication problem. Sometimes he asks me a question he thinks is very straightforward, and he wants to know "yes" or "no" — but I reply with a contextual answer. He gets impatient, interrupts me by repeating the question in an emphasized way, adding, "Yes or no?" with some exasperation.

This is very irritating to me on several levels. It feels controlling, and I've told him he cannot tell me how to answer. As well, the question is often not as simple as he thinks. But I tend to withdraw after these episodes or give him a bit of silent treatment, which feels controlling on my part.

Years ago, we had a heart-to-heart about this and he confessed that my answers were confusing to him, that he is a simple man and he needs a simple answer. There aren't other controlling behaviors on his part.

But I'm not doing this on purpose, it is a reflection of the way I think and the way I am. So it feels like he's rejecting my personality.

How can we reframe this without someone being "wrong"? Humor might work, but I haven't tried. That's hard to pull off when I'm bristling.

— Bristling

If we believe Tannen, the wife is simply affirming her gender identity. Which is her protected constitutional right. And yet, why is it so difficult to say yes or no. At the least, this man is soliciting her view. He values her opinion. And yet, she seems to be incapable of offering an unambiguous response. Surely, we do not want him making family decisions unilaterally.

One would rather not say that women are indecisive, because that would involve stereotyping. And besides, does this woman have a managerial job that requires her to make decisions or to offer her point of view? If she sits around meetings and tries to put things into context, without making a decision, we would feel obliged to conclude that she does not have what it takes to take charge, or much of anything.

Even if she is a housewife and mother, at some point, often several times a day, she will need to make decisions. She cannot run a household without making executive decisions.

So, the solution to her problem is: to learn how to say either yes or no. If she cannot make up her mind, she can do what the rest of us do: she can flip a coin.


Giordano Bruno said...

Did you notice that the lady refuses to give a concrete example of exactly what question her husband is asking? She wanders all around but refuses to come to the point. What yes or no question did he ask? We do not know because she will not provide it. She provides everything else that is not germane to the question.

"Did you take the trash out to the curb this morning?" I need more context, which trash? What curb? What do you consider morning? Why do things have to be so binary? Why would you think it my gender assigned role to take out the trash?

Anonymous said...

The woman wants Carolyn Hax to say: "Your husband is wrong. He needs to accept your manner of answering a question because that respects your personality. Tell him I said so."

The husband told her flat-out *years ago* that he needs a simple yes or no because he's a simple man. The wife refuses to accommodate this request because "her personality" requires her to ramble and explain a bunch of stuff. The solution is for the wife to stop torturing her husband this way and do what he asks because it is REASONABLE.

(I am a woman.)

David Foster said...

"And besides, does this woman have a managerial job that requires her to make decisions or to offer her point of view?"

Years ago, Investors Business Daily had a great quote on decision-making...I believe it was from the then-CEO of John Deere, but can't find it and not sure. Anyhow, the quote went something like this:

"You've got to wander around for a while in the thicket of ambiguity...and then come out the other side."

Freddo said...

Easy solution: she can silently have the entire conversation in her head and only give the outcome to her husband.

Anonymous said...

Classic "It's not about the nail."

Pretty much describes the situation.