Why is replying to a question with a question perceived as offensive somehow?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by wynn, May 7, 2011.

  1. Stryder Keeper of "good" ideas. Valued Senior Member

    That could be subliminal for some, in my case I have to admit I purposely make a question to both identify a potential avenue of where it can seem rude and also to be "rude".

    I'm pretty sure you'll find most of the other posters used a question for the same reason, although if it was subliminal it would definitely open up a few rather interesting Derren Brownesque experiments on the forum.
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  3. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

    i did it on purpose..its the smart ass in me..
    (didn't help that like 20 ppl did it before me..)
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Is it offensive? What kind of question did the first person ask and what kind of question did the second ask in response? Wouldn't a great deal depend on context in these situations?

    Did the first individual perceive the second's responding with a question as evasive? Was it interpreted as the disrespectful dismissal of an issue that the first person thought was important?

    What if the second person didn't understand the first's question or wanted to discuss the presuppositions that might lurk behind a seemingly loaded question?
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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Yeah, that's a good one

    Oh, yeah. That one bugs people.

    I once caused a riot by asking a guy how bad his father's cocaine habit was. I suppose when someone holds up their father as an example of a cocaine user, it's completely undignified to impugn said father by suggesting he had a cocaine habit insofar as one might inquire how much coke the guy used.

    In the end, I really think that it's about the fact that at least one of the two people in any given conversation resents being asked to think. A lot of times, if one knows and acknowledges the answer to the secondary question, the initial question is likewise answered.

    To wit, the classic, "Does a bear shit in the woods?"

    Any time you hear that question in response to another question, it means the answer to the original question is, "Yes."

    And what was once a time-honored conversational habit has become an annoyance because variations on the theme have asked people to think harder than they did to come up with the question whose answer is so damnably obvious.

    But, no, that's hardly a uniform overview.

    Imagine one accused of racism.

    One: You can't call me racist!

    Other: Well, fine, then. What are you actually saying? What are you trying to communicate that is coming out so poorly?

    One: What does it matter what I'm trying to say if you've already decided I'm a racist?

    Whenever I see that kind of exchange, I wonder if maybe the accused racist is simply afraid of spelling out what he thinks because he really, really, really doesn't want to be racist, despite the fact that he really, really, really is, in fact, racist, and doesn't want to put the effort into finding a way to say it that will con a few hapless souls into believing him when the object of his objection, e.g., the accusing other, isn't going to buy it.

    There are all sorts of reasons why people answer one question with another. And, yes, some of them are rude. In many cases, though, I think the reactions are more indicative than anything else.
  8. Oniw17 ascetic, sage, diogenes, bum? Valued Senior Member

    Why do you think that it is perceived as offensive? What kind of dumb question is that?
  9. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

    i have been told my answering a question with a question is rude cause i do it ALOT..(usually by ex's when they weren't ex's)
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    What I find strange is that the content of the question doesn't seem to matter with some people.
    Just that the moment they see someone reply with a question, this puts them on the defensive.
    (Some posters in this thread exemplified this.)

    I see the thread was moved into Free Thoughts, even though I posted it into Human Science, wanting to discuss the psychology behind this topic.

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  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Did they offer any explanation why it was rude?

    I suppose we won't be able to get answers out of Orleander - she is someone who doesn't want to get a question in reply to her question.
  12. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

    it was because i did it alot..
    and sometimes they just wanted a direct answer..
    and pry i used it as an escape, once or twice..
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I suppose some people approach forum discussions in a the same manner as watercooler conversations, so they get defensive more quickly once approached with what are otherwise standard discussion strategies.
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Why do you find this annoying?
  15. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Damn you Yaz! God DAMN you for asking a question to this question!

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    I take no offence to reciprocal questioning if it is ingenuous. But hell eventually somebody's GOT to commit and make an assertion, however vulnerable that makes them to attack or ridicule. I've had certain trolls in this group play that game with me--they interrogate everything I say and basically derail the whole discourse by directing it's course themselves. So imo it's important for the OP not to lose control of their own discourse, at least if the point of their posted question was to honestly solicit possible answers.
    Last edited: May 8, 2011
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Because people want simplicity from life. An exchange of questions leads to a longer conversation which will require more thought.

    There are many perfecly valid reasons for not answering a question directly, but responding with a relevant question of one's own.
    • The question may be invalid. "Have you stopped beating your wife," is the classic, but there are plenty of others that are not so obvious. The questioner may honestly believe that the question is a faithful reflection of reality, but that doesn't mean he's right.
    • The question may lack precision. "What was that?" is the obvious example. Everyone thinks everyone else is paying attention to them, but your attention may have been elsewhere.
    • The question may be rude. "Where do you find clothes in your size?" would take an awful lot of explaining before the 300lb woman you're addressing feels like sharing details from that part of her life. If your mother is her size and is having trouble finding clothes, you should have probably told her that a couple of months ago and tried slowly to build some rapport.
    • The question may be too complex. "How can we get this software to respond faster?" Yeah okay, tell me what you're willing to pay/give/compromise to make it faster. Install faster hardware? Train the users to make fewer data entry errors? Perform a critical path anaylsis? Reduce the number of options?
    But in general, it boils down to three reasons:
    • 1. I don't understand the question well enough to answer it.
    • 2. I don't think you have a right to expect me to answer the question.
    • 3. The question is stupid.
    Because we are not well trained in communication. For the vast majority of people, communication is the most important skill in all areas of life, from family to hobbies to career to community. Yet our educational system in many jurisdictions does not train people to be good communicators.
    Because many people regard themselves as being in charge of the conversation, rather than engaging in discourse. They want to control where it goes, rather than actually performing a bidirectional exchange of information with the other person.
    I think some of these posters would consider you lucky, since he actually answers your question before asking why.

    Asking "why" after you've given an answer can only mean one thing: "Why did you want to know? What are you going to do with this information?" It could be a poorly-worded expression of curiosity: I don't understand why you need that information and since I'm committed to spending my life with you I'd like to understand you better. It could be a poorly-worded prelude to offering help: If you want to know where the power tools are so you can start a woodworking project, I'd like to help you get started because they're a lot more complicated and dangerous than you may realize. It could be a poorly-worded attempt to forestall suspicion: If you want to know why I came home late five nights in a row and each time I said I was at the office, you need to understand that we're preparing the annual budget and it's really difficult this year since profits are down.

    Of course it could have originally been any of those things, but now it's just become an annoying habit, like inserting "ya know" after every subordinating conjunction.

    The key to handling this is in your response. What do you say when he asks, "Why?"
    • Do you tell him why you asked the question? Giving him information he doesn't really want but asks simply because of an out-of-control habit is probably a great way to get him to stop.

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    • Whereas if you succumb to irritation and ask him, "Why do you always say 'why'?", it will just escalate, since he probably barely realizes he's saying it, much less the reason for it. How many people are consciously aware of their annoying "ya know" habit?
    • Ignoring the "why" and walking away is probably the easiest response. He may not be expecting an answer and may not even realize that what he just uttered was a question. But it's one of those little things that strains a marriage.
    Since you're the one who's perceptive and analytical enough to put it in words, it's unfortunately up to you do decide what your next move is. My suggestions are those of an outsider who barely knows you and doesn't know your husband at all. You should be able to come up with something better, although I hope my ideas are at least helpful.
  17. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Thanks, Fraggle.

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  18. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member

    One last point that I think no one touched on —

    The person who asks the questions controls the conversation.

    So, in a sense, it's a power struggle.
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Yes. This is the kind of analysis I wanted to get at, which is why I originally posted the thread in Human Science.

    While I don't think that posing a question automatically means that the asker controls the conversation, I find it telling that some people would think so, as this says something about how they essentially view the relationship with the other person - whether they see it as a competition, or as cooperation.
  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    If a response is intelligent and serious, then it probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether a response is a question or a statement.

    I sometimes answer questions with questions. My reasons vary --

    Sometimes I'm trying to suggest that I'm unsure of my answer and am not really comfortable in flatly asserting it. So I frame my answer in the form of a hypothetical -- what if this were true? I think that I do that quite often.

    Sometimes I'm addressing my reasons for producing the view that the other person has questioned. So I'll ask a question which, if it's answered as I suspect that it will be, will produce an answer that supports my position and not theirs. In effect, I'm suggesting that if the other person looks at the problem correctly, that they come around and begin to argue as I do. It seems less aggressive and arrogant somehow to do that instead of simply lecturing somebody and brow-beating them.

    And sometimes I think that a question is based on false premises. So instead of responding to a question that I think is poorly conceived or even intentionally misleading, I'll home right in on the underlying assumptions by questioning them.

    Yeah, that's a game that a number of people will sometimes play here on Sciforums. It happens on all discussion boards actually.

    Somebody will compose a what I think is a rather carefully thought-out opinion on an issue, and somebody else will respond with a single-line question, consisting of a demand that the first person define a word or something. (Typically one of the less important words in the post, something not important to the thrust of the argument and seemingly chosen almost at random.) That kind of response requires no effort to produce, it doesn't require that the responder even read the post that they are "responding" to, let alone understand what the other person was trying to say, and it places the responder on top and pushes the original poster onto the defensive. People will even chase the original poster around with repeated 'You refused to answer the question!', which naturally keeps them on top and allows them to avoid actually engaging with the issues.

    When that happens to me, I'll honestly answer a question if I think that it's germane to the topic of discussion and if doing so clarifies things and eliminates ambiguities. If I think that the question was simply rhetorical, then I'll probably just ignore it and continue on making my points as placidly and persuasively as possible while trying to ignore the ego-games.

    Threads here on Sciforums often resemble exercises in free association and tend to derail very quickly. They often only stay on topic for a page or two. I tend to lose interest in long threads with 100 or more posts, since they are typically dominated by one or more running ego-battles between a small number of individuals. Sometimes long threads will stumble into interesting new topics almost at random though, which might lure me back in.
  21. dmbtiger Registered Member

    Is your liver diseased?

    I was wondering if this was a spoof, because it is an existential problem which Dostoevsky explored in Notes From Underground:

    In the first chapter it says:

    "...Now, I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything...."

    I don't know that reading this will be of any help, but at least it is in the domain of the problem described by this young man.

    Dostoevsky was a very religious writer, although he never uses his writing as a vehicle for describing his beliefs explicitly. He presents them as fictional problems for the reader to solve. So....

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