When a Question is Not a Question

Questions can be used to disguise unpleasant ideas: accusation, judgment, fishing for praise, sympathy or generally seeking attention come to mind. Here are some examples:

  • “Is that what you’re going to wear?”
  • “Do I look [insert insult: old, fat, tired, haggard, etc.]?”
  • “How long do you think it will take me to vacuum, wash and wax both cars this weekend?”
  • “I was thinking of buying you this, would you like it?”
  • “I cleaned the house top to bottom today. Should I do all the laundry too?”
  • “I put a lot of work in to this spreadsheet. Can you tell me if it looks right?”
  • “Is it okay with you if I eat some of my birthday cake?”

Questions-that-aren’t-really-questions are a manipulation to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. Perhaps we are proud and looking for praise but are embarrassed to say it directly; perhaps we want help but we don’t want to acknowledge the help– that would require us to be grateful in return; maybe we are angry but are uncomfortable with our own anger or upsetting someone else. When we do this likely we don’t even realize it… but do it habitually and people on the receiving end will catch on.
We disguise communication because we are avoiding paying a price (having to experience anger or vulnerability, for instance). But we pay a price either way. In hiding our true intent, others regard for us diminishes; we are perceived — rightfully so — as not a straight talker, manipulative. When our intent is hidden even from ourselves it certainly makes it harder for us to understand the true motives of others, and it makes it harder for us to be with them in a way that makes a positive difference.
The price we pay for covert communication is worse than the price we thought we were avoiding.