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The Politics of Dealing with Difficult Questions.

Posted by intellisg on August 1, 2007

politicsqns.jpgRecently I posed a question “Can Someone Tell Me Why Our Scholars Aren’t as Smart as the Jews?”

As the saying goes “There are questions and there are questions.” Of course, this doesn’t necessary mean anything except to say not all questions are the same. Generally, we all know questions fall into two main broad categories. The first are ‘closed’ question like, “are you at home?” or “have you eaten?” Which usually requires only a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no” to answer.

The other is the ‘open ended’ question which usually requires a fair amount of elaboration, like “why do you think pygmies are shorter than us?” I know it looks simple enough. But look again. Hardly the simple Simon run-of-the-mill line of questioning one associates with a ‘closed’ question of closed. If we aren’t careful ‘open ended’ questions can all too easily be transformed into a lightning rod attracting loads of controversy. Such as the open ended question: “Can Someone Tell Me Why Our Scholars Aren’t as Smart as the Jews?” This brings into question: how do we successfully deal with the politics of ‘open ended’ questions? Is there some etiquette that goes with it?

Before we dive into the deep end. I need to warn you all posing an ‘open’ ended question can be hazardous to your health. It’s a bit like signing on the dotted line. That’s the cue for the guy to start telling you all the things you wished he told you before you signed.

In the words of one poster who wrote to me recently:

“Darkness when you ask an open ended question like why are Jews smarter than scholars. I am sorry but you have more or less relinquished your rights – that’s to say your right to say ‘no’ and ‘but’ along with everything that goes with it. Really, it’s a bit like joining the French Foreign Legion……you don’t even have anything even close to a choice.” Another poster retorted when I insisted on just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no. “Darkness, you shouldn’t have asked an open question then! What did you really expect *%^$?You have to listen to me whether you like it or not, you *&%#@%%#@!”

As much as I would like to say these poster’s bordered on the extreme to the radical – how justified are they to insist that once a person floats an open ended question – he has more or less relinquished his rights? You know what I took the trouble to find out by examining the etiquette of conversing and guess what: they’re absolutely right. Asking an open ended question is nothing short of ‘an invitation to treat” in legal terms. Mark Twain even affirmed this, “…..it’s a right of easement that cannot be refused.” That means it usually requires elaboration from the person who is questioned, only because it’s not so much a question as it is, as Theodore Rozak said, “a play on King Lear’s dictum: “…and let us take upon the mystery of things…”

Let’s freeze this frame for a moment and stand back. And ask ourselves what’s happening here? All I did was ask a simple question. Hey all I wanted was a simple answer. You telling me now, I have no rights to even tie my shoelaces and I have to sit down and listen to you, while I pretend to be interested when I actually lapsing into a comatose state? Come on!  Besides why is this so important? Well consider this – knowing how to respond to ‘open ended’ questions allows you to field them effectively – it’s nothing short of survival tool these days. Knowing how respond to ‘open ended’ questions pays out dividends. In life no one gives you anything, you only get what you negotiate for.

This takes us one step deeper into the science of conversing.

First of all I want you to get one thing out from your head. There’s nothing simple about even asking a simple question: as much as we all like to believe it’s simple. It’s actually quite a complicated affair. Though the art of conversing comes intuitively to most of us without consciously having to think about it, that’s where the where dangers lie. Like all things benign there are always hidden dangers. The simpler it is the more dangerous it is – I know people die from terrorist blowing up buildings, but not nearly as many as those who die from slipping on simple wet bathroom tiles or suffering heart attacks from regularly consuming simple artery clogging hamburgers.

Some people will say, if ‘open ended’ questions are so dangerous, lets keep it simple, let’s just stick to ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Surely that can get us into trouble, right?

The problem there is what happens when we are confronted with certain scenarios where depth and insights are required such. In those situations where there is need to get hard nosed information, asking ‘closed’ is as good as asking nothing. It can’t really be done in the real world! Not successfully at least. I don’t doubt automated telephone receptionist designers may tell you otherwise only because they don’t know how many times we have said, “all I got was a machine on the other side!” only to hang up.

I am not saying there is no place for ‘close questioning,’ of course there is if we are really serious about time management and how to dedicate ourselves effectively on a day to day basis. Asking closed questions in rapid successions can go a long way to identify the types of symptoms being encountered. Only one needs to appreciate where it ends and where there’s a need to switch gears to asking ‘open end’ question, if we want to really get a handle on the problem or try to carve out the best solution out the problem. This is where most of us fail, not because we are dumb or even for lack of imagination – the reason according to psychologist, is because we don’t really know when one should fade out to allow the other to step in and vice- versa. We all know open ended questions remain the best means of teasing, coaxing and winnowing out the finer details of the why’s, when’s and how’s – we all know ‘closed’ questions do a good job in pointing us to the right direction. But when it comes to using both of them in conversations, it all gets blurred up and cloudy. Is it such a wonder that we usually find ourselves in sticking situations? Worst still with a shoe stuck in our mouth?

This raises the question: how do we successful navigate our way through the no-man’s land of asking ‘open ended’ questions without getting embroiled in controversy? Can this be successfully done?

Yes but before we learn this trick, we need to appreciate a few truths: firstly most of us don’t listen to gather information as much as we listen to confirm our world view. This means we even commit the sin of assuming along with filling-in-the-blanks – think “conspiracy” and the next word that comes along will probably be “theory”, 9 out of 10 times. Don’t bother figuring out, how that word connected itself, that’s the way, we are hardwired. Now if you don’t believe me, I can prove it to you by conducting a simple experiment: what if I said to you, I can successfully guess the first color that comes into your mind? I want you to write it down now – the color and the end of this article, I am going to guess it.

This just means we need to be very mindful of the way we pose a question. Some open ended question just produces a defensive attitude. I realized this when I posed this question to a poster, “you hate my article? Are you a scholar?” To which she replied, “What’s that got to do with my line of argument?”

So it’s important to understand even if you’re asking an open ended question only out of curiosity and you have not intentions of establishing a point – it can be construed negatively and all their defenses goes up. For example: one could be interviewing a female prospective candidate for a job only to ask, “by the way, how many kids do you have?” The suspicion that builds up in her head is, “that scumbag wants to know whether I am going to bail out on him when I go on maternity leave!” See what I mean you just stepped on it – it blow up!

I realized this early on in life and this is where I am going to share with you a technique that I always use before I ask a question, open or closed – I don’t have a name for it, except to call it ‘preparing the ground.’

One good way of ‘preparing the ground’ is removing the suspicion from the onset by making it clear you are asking a question because you’re genuinely curious and not because you have an issue involved with the question, make that point clear when you ask. I would even go as far as to say even take to trouble to preface that kind of question with the following statement: “You know what, I have the same problem all the time and it’s only out of curiosity, but how would you deal with it?” That’s better than, “so what you going do about it?”

The good thing about this trick is it even allows you to ask really stupid questions without coming across as patronizing. Which often results in a defensive line like, “You know what Darkness, I have always suspected you suffer from some psychological chip on your shoulder, tell did you have a happy childhood? Because it is quiet clear to me, you are trying to patronize me with this stupid line of questioning. You *^%#@%^!”

In such cases, I recommend using the sacrificial lamb or scape goat technique, trust me, if you learn and master this, you could really get ahead in life. As the term implies a large part of this technique depends on putting all the blame on someone else. For example, you might preface the question with, “I’m sorry, but I just need to ask a few questions just to make certain you’re not another righteous elite bitch like Miss Wee…”

Of course through the years, I have amassed quite a compendium of nifty techniques which allows me to navigate this minefield of asking questions. I am just sharing a few tips with you to put across my main message: the need to appreciate the politics of questioning. As I mentioned earlier there is certainly etiquette involved here along with politics, but if I had to plumb to choose either to ask an open or closed question. I would still choose the former, only because it offers a chance to learn from others and that’s better than posing a closed question, only because it’s as good as talking to yourself. And we all know that’s no fun.

Blue – that’s the color!

(This has been brought to you by your friendly brotherhood controller, Aurora / By Darkness / Astroboy – The Politics of Questions – ES 2998278P – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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23 Responses to “The Politics of Dealing with Difficult Questions.”

  1. shima said

    It is just a stupid question that is really poorly structured and yes, it speak loads about the person/s asking it. Maybe they don’t have a foreskin? Maybe scholars are getting a good monetary deal in singapore so let us bash them just for fun? Maybe something controversial just to raise the level of readership like Xiaxue does in her blogs?

  2. guppy said

    It was definitely a stupid question and you probably got levelled off by anongal & her gang of Amazonians – but it was certainly a hilarious and fascinating read. I say it does leave me wondering, what did she say to you? I’ve never seen you backtrack so fast before. Most definitely a stupid question.

  3. koalabear said

    Is it a valid question? Yes. Did I learn anything from it. Yes. Firstly, it showed a remarkable understanding of Jewish culture. Was it accurate, as the author said, it depends. Was it scholar bashing? No. I think, he is entitled to his opinion providing he can produce the facts to back it up. Great.

  4. koalabear said

    Whenever public money is spent. I dont think you can stop ppl from asking questions. Its like an open ended question. Not even if you happen to be God. Not even if you claim this or that is sensitive. If you want to talk like dat even wiping your ass is sensitive. Darkness wrote an article. He asked a pointed question. He has a right.

    If you think for one moment the brotherhood just did a U turn because they are afraid or cowered, dats just poor calculation. They fear no one. Shut them down today and within 24 hours they are broadcasting in another place. Close one down, two will come up somewhere. I have my own personal opinion why they just didnt take the fight directly to anongal and her lot, but I am not sharing.

    Let us just say, its the politics of dealing with difficult questions.

  5. seeprompt said

    Allow me to share an advice given to me that works when it comes to effective communication.

    “Being direct solves most problems”.

    Perhaps beating around the bush with open questions makes you go in circles (pun intended here). I guess it takes a really smart communicator to discern when to be tactful and when to just get-to-the-point.

    And about that question of whose is the smartest. I think that being diligent at the things that really matters in life makes you smart. Did I hear someone say “making more money?”

    P.S. Which leads me to think about that age old question, “What is the true meaning of success” – does being smarter than scholars and/or Jews makes one successful? This is fun! ;-Þ

  6. dudu said

    I like the part where you say, one needs to know when to switch gears / it so simple and so natural, I didnt think abt it at all till now. Knowing is half the battle won.

    As for the Jewish issue / good one, extraordinary knowledge on their culture / I say pick and choose the good and adopt it and throw out the rubbish. You dont need to be a jew or even smart to figure that part out.

  7. jopinana@yahoo.com said

    Conversations are not easy. You can get it very wrong sometimes. Even when you ask no questions. Especially if you purposely ignore ppl or treat them as if they dont exist.

  8. Hummer said

    (1)”First of all I want you to get one thing out from your head. There’s nothing simple about even asking a simple question: as much as we all like to believe it’s simple. It’s actually quite a complicated affair. Though the art of conversing comes intuitively to most of us without consciously having to think about it, that’s where the where dangers lie. Like all things benign there are always hidden dangers. The simpler it is the more dangerous it is – I know people die from terrorist blowing up buildings, but not nearly as many as those who die from slipping on simple wet bathroom tiles or suffering heart attacks from regularly consuming simple artery clogging hamburgers.”

    True so very true.

    (2) Abt Jews? Very simple. If I have a choice to drive a VW or Ferrari. Why in the hell should I settle for less. The choice is very clear. I know who the real ‘elites’ are.

  9. Hummer said

    IHateTheBrotherhood Says:

    “Time for the good men of the Internet to stomp out these sissies !”

    [The brotherhood doesnt exist. Dont you know that. The IS is just an aggregator didnt you know that? If you dont believe me just take 20 min and see for yourself,

    http://www.singaporeangle.com/2007/07/introduction_to_singapore_soci.html

  10. Hummer said

    Sorry for hogging the SLF, but I need to ask darkness personally, is there like trick questions that one can use to get the desired answer? Thanks

    Hummer

  11. Hummer said

    IHateTheBrotherhood,

    If they dont even exist what is there to hate or even get angry abt? Even the webmaster here doesn’t even treat them as if they exist along with Singapore Surf or anyone in blogosphere. So if they dont exist, this is just one big dream, so what is there to get so angry about?

    Dont believe me, look carefully at the vid:

    http://www.singaporeangle.com/2007/07/introduction_to_singapore_soci.html

    They really dont exist! So just chill, its all in your head. You are imagining it all.

  12. No-Brain Teddy said

    Govt scholars are not smart like Jews because they were not trained like Chinese Indonesians.

  13. cowboy said

    Hi Darkness,

    great one. I always get into trouble. Infact to be honest with you. I didnt even know there were even two classes of questions open or close, till I read this write up. At least I learn something new everytime I log on here. Thank you because I know writing requires time, effort and alot of planning. This goes for everyone in my office too.

    As for the Jew people question. I think we take what is good not only frow Jews but also everyone else. I am not an indian, but I like curry. I am not a Malay but I like to wear sarong to sleep. So that should be the way. As for scholars, they are just people like the rest of us. I dont expect much for them, but it must go both ways. If they expect ppl to listen to them just bc they are scholars, they may be able to fool most ppl, but not ppl like darkness, then how? So everyone must know their place and everyone should respect everyone, that we it is all very happy and peaceful.

  14. No-Brain Teddy said

    Because people love sheep-dogs precisely because they are petulant.

    But I suppose you don’t know anything about dogs and owners, nor have you observed them so.

    Which is why scholars are so useless. For all their education it seems that nothing ever was, learnt.

  15. seeprompt said

    It is so cute to see children play. You can tell that children will be children when one taunts another and the other responds (at a lower level) by taunting back more aggressively.

  16. darkness said

    Good afternoon all,

    There are many comments here – most I will have to regard as rhetorical only for the sake of brevity. Having said that allow me to “add on” and “tarik’ on a few issues.

    Q: Why is it important to classify a question? Or for that matter anything? Sounds a bit like the art of selling u something u already have or don’t need right? A: Because the act of classifying is just the act of making sense of things. Otherwise its as good as doing something for ‘fun.’ That’s OK, if you’re just out to enjoy yourself, but we all know, if we all want to be ‘better’ or proceed upwards along the learning curve, performance needs to be benchmarked and how are you going to do that if you don’t even know your right from your left foot? This is hardly new, every professional knows this, Tiger Woods keeps a notebook, which tracks his performance and breaks it down into measurements i.e classifications. The same occurs in the workplace, unless of course you tell me the benefits are “indirect” or the come around is in 20 yrs time, then we might as well pack our bags and go back home!

    However, if you really want to improve or “get out from the rut,” then there is no question that you require a system of bench marking performance. This could be as simple as keep track of how many miles one cycles a week to even regularly weighing yourself – now when you begin to do that, you’re actually breaking down stuff into understandable bits i.e you are classifying.

    Being able to classify ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions may appear trivial, but if you really want to be an effective communicator, there is more to it then just flair, sentencing and making sure you don’t mangle out your sentences. I mean u can even have zero charisma, but if you learn to classify what you typically say, write and think, you could even come across as a very persuasive salesman, dentist or a high flyer like anongal who happens to some strategic planner. The goal in every case is know where you have gone wrong and to have a means of correcting yourself on a continuous basis. Now I have found that really effective people r usually very disciplined in they way they break down problems. You know why? Its not because they are elites or even smarter than you and me, but they all have one thing in common, they are regularly classify things, this way they know whenever there is a deficit or surplus – you cannot fool them. Because if you know what happened bfr it just means you know where X marks the spot and its easier to get to a point somewhere in the future.

    It seems strange to me while we all regularly do this with our hobbies, none of us really feel the need to classify how we even talk i.e we don’t even bother to audit how our message comes across or even try to imagine how the person hearing will be affected by it. Is it such a wonder, we regularly find ourselves having to pry the shoe from out mouth?

    Tq. Darkness 2007

  17. freedomofspeech said

    Darkness the one army of the brotherhood. He alone against the entire blogosphere, Singapore Angle and all.

    He wants to die. He actually believes he can win. He probably reckons, he’s even like his gaming character in the virtual.

    If only the entire blogosphere can get together and kick him out like WSM. If only we can organize ourselves in the way we did with the Mr Brown saga. If only we can all say, we boycot them and refuse to see, hear and even read what they produce.

    Surely, we can drive out one man. Can’t we?

  18. shoestring said

    I agree that a careful choice of words and sensitivity is desirable to communicate, not necessarily effectively, but to preserve an amicable atmosphere and maintain open channels. But I believe that communication is not only about speaking, but also listening. The latter will, to some extent, dictate how a person will react to what is spoken. And the reaction will reflect on the character and maturity of that person.

    It takes two hands to clap. In this case, the “back-tracking” was a wise move, not because it was the decent thing to do, but because it would have been futile to pursue the matter further when the other party is not really listening, but defensive.

  19. shima said

    Of course, it is never nice to be offensive in the first place. Yeah – scholars are a bunch of idiots, so are the brotherhood right?

  20. freedomofspeech said

    It’s just a one man army – what are we waiting for?

  21. freedomofspeech said

    I speak from the inside out – if we dont stop him- he will just keep on coming at us like one of those German tanks!

    We really need to stop him!

    We have to otherwise – we wouldn’t even be around.

    Think about it.

  22. Daniel said

    I miss the times when this website was updated daily.

  23. As It Is. said

    There is no such a thing as a one-man army. One man is simply one man. An army has thousands of people. So, how can there be such a thing as a one-man army? Do you mean that he is a Natural Leader to command an army? A General or Field Marshal?

    Darkness, although much older than you, I continue to learn from you every time I read youR posts. They are not only interesting, refreshing, entertaining, amusing and intriguing but also educational and, most important, always keep me thinking. As a result, they widen my scope of perception and correct my nurtured biases, which have been accumulated over more than five decades. This could only take place because I read in order to listen and learn. Thats why whenever I make a comment, I always prefer to let things remain AS IT IS, so as not to stir up a hornets’ nest or to open a can of worms.

    You are doing a great job for the Brotherhood and for the society. Please go on with your good works and do not be discouraged by temporal difficulties, even though they may seem to be overwhelmingly insurmountable at times. I believe you can.

    Actually, as I see it, some are just poking at you for the fun of it; some are simply jealous; some secretly admire you but are trying to provoke you in order to lure you out into the open because they have been trying to make contact with you but have so far failed miserably; and some are your sincere friends who may be trying to indirectly advise you in their own ways.

    In the short time that I have come to know you, through reading what you have written and said, you are actually a good man. A very sensible and kind hearted man of substance, as well as a natural leader. Yes, you have the qualities of a good leader. Only if I could wish to have a son like you, I would have joys beyond any imagination.

    This is not to carry your balls. I have nothing to gain. This is a sincere expression from the bottom of my heart.

    In the mean time, I hope one day you can learn the trick to remain:

    AS IT IS!

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