Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Soft Skills: Don't Tell Don't Ask

TL;DR: If you ask me any of the questions below I'll say ...  Sorry, I don't answer these questions, but would you like to talk about how my answer will affect you?
  •   Are you quitting?
  •   Is there a re-org?
  •   Are you having a kid? 
  •   Is Igor getting fired?
It's common for a questioner to  pose a question requiring a yes/no answer, with an intent to trap the respondent into disclosing information.  For example, assume Quincy wants to know if Rachel is pregnant, and Rachel is, but doesn't want to disclose that information yet. There are three possible behaviors for Rachel,  lie, disclose or abstain.

Lie:
  Quincy: Are you having a kid?
  Rachel: No
  2 weeks pass
  Rachel: I feel awful for lying but I'm having a kid

Disclose:
  Quincy: Are you having a kid?
  Rachel: Please don't tell anyone, no one should know, but yes.

Abstain:
   Quincy: Are you having a kid?
   Rachel:  Go read this blog post. What you like to talk about how my answer will affect you?

If a respondent only abstains when she wants to avoid disclosing information then the questioner can conclude abstaining is equivalent to disclosing.  To avoid this trap, the respondent must always abstain from answering the question.  Also, a wise respondent will realize the questioner likely has reasonable concerns which they may wish to discuss regardless of the answer given.

So, if you ever ask me such a question, I"ll point you here, and ask if you'd like to discuss how the answer will affect you.

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