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Responding with Why? to a binary question

  1. Feb 3, 2014 #1

    Dembadon

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    Responding with "Why?" to a binary question

    First, an example:

    Me: "Do you have to work tonight?"
    Wife: "Why?"
    Me: "Does your work schedule depend on my reason for asking?"
    Wife: *playfully punches me in the arm* "No, I don't have to work tonight, smartass."
    Me: :biggrin:

    Does this type of response bother anyone else? Obviously, we must assume the question is reasonable; I've no issues responding with, "That's none of your business," or "Why?" to presumptuous questions. However, wouldn't the polite thing be to first answer the question and then ask for a reason if you're curious and one isn't given?
     
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  3. Feb 3, 2014 #2

    Evo

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    I'm with you, is there something else going on? (you don't have to answer, but her answering your question with that type of question seems odd).
     
  4. Feb 3, 2014 #3

    Dembadon

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    We have a good relationship and she's the most honest and trustworthy person I've ever met, so I'm not really concerned in that department. It's almost as if it's an old habit, instinctual even. The "men" she was with before me were not trustworthy.
     
  5. Feb 3, 2014 #4

    phinds

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    I could be off base in this particular case, but I find this to be an absolutely typical type A / type B communication issue. This kind of thing used to just infuriate me but now that I understand it, I can live with it without raising my blood pressure, although I still find it disagreeable even though I know how well-intentioned it is.

    Basically, type A folks like us want INFORMATION and type B folks don't care much about information but want DISCUSSION. The "why" answer is not to avoid answering the question, it is intended (possibly even subconsciously) to spark discussion.

    The stereotypical example of this sort of interaction, in short form, goes like this:

    Scenario 1: Type A meets up with type B after work and thinks going out is preferable tonight to cooking in, so asks "would you like to go out to dinner?". Type B responds with a long ramble about what kind of restaurant they might go to and other semi-related stuff and never actually says yes or no and Type A is ready to commit murder.

    Scenario 2: Type A meets up with type B after work and type B says "would you like to go out to dinner?" and type A says "yes". Now type B is very seriously hurt and thinks (again, possibly subconsciously) "why does this person not want to talk to me?".
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2014
  6. Feb 3, 2014 #5

    AlephZero

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    It could be similar to an example I once heard from somebody who taught English as a foreign language.

    It took his students a while to figure out that when a boy asks a girl "have you seen the latest star wars movie?" the correct translation is "do you fancy a snog in the back row of the cinema tonight" :biggrin:
     
  7. Feb 3, 2014 #6
    My every conversation with mom's odd then... I agree with phinds on this one.
     
  8. Feb 3, 2014 #7

    Evo

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    Am I the only person left on earth that answers a question with a straightforward answer?

    This is why I choose not to be in a relationship. People are weird.
     
  9. Feb 3, 2014 #8

    lisab

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    I'm guilty of sometimes giving a binary answer to a question that was not intended to be binary.

    Example: if someone asks me, "Do you want to go to Chicago or New York?", my answer would be an enthusiastic, "YES!"

    Most people don't understand :biggrin:.
     
  10. Feb 3, 2014 #9

    lisab

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    Totally agree, people are completely weird.
     
  11. Feb 3, 2014 #10
    Yeah, personally, I get irritated when I'm expecting someone to say either, "zero," or "one" and they say, "why."
     
  12. Feb 3, 2014 #11
    We use '1' and '2' in the campus chat room...but there's always at least one bugger who comes up with 'y?'
     
  13. Feb 4, 2014 #12
    The most obvious reason for this that I can think of is that she might not have made up her mind yet.

    For example, if you were planning on inviting some friends over to watch sport, maybe she could conveniently be working the evening, but if you said you wanted to take her to a nice place for dinner, maybe she would not be working.

    That was just an example, but it illustrate how a binary answer CAN depend on the reason for you asking.
     
  14. Feb 4, 2014 #13

    f95toli

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    Since the answer to this question can quite often be "yes" (although this obviously depends on how flexible her working hours are), I also don't see why asking "why" in this context is strange.

    It can also be a way of "skipping" a step (saying "no, I don't have to work") and direcly expressing curiousity (why are you asking?):

    "Why?"= "No, I don't. Do you have anything planned for tonight?"

    Human communication is rarely binary, and once you know someone really well you can say a lot with a single word.
     
  15. Feb 4, 2014 #14
    I was thinking the same but I realize my answer most often is just a yes/no as well. Maybe a Why to annoy people but that's just me.


    The example of lisab is recognizable. Most often happens when I use public transport or in the shop. I guess it's linked to be more tense and/or in a hurry.
     
  16. Feb 4, 2014 #15

    Astronuc

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    Probably the appropriate response would be to say "No, why do ask?" or "No, what do you have in mind?" Perhaps why is a short-hand way of inviting some elaboration, since one is married to the other.

    It doesn't sound like the "Why" was avoidance, which would be a concern.
     
  17. Feb 4, 2014 #16

    Borek

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    Zarqon nailed it. Nothing strange here. I often answer with "Why?" in such cases, when the real answer is "it depends".

    "Why?" is just much shorter than "I need to finish correcting the manual for xyz software, translated by an idiot who doesn't know neither English nor Polish, but it is boring and irritating, and the deadline is slipping away, as they fight localization problems, so if you have better ideas I will happily procrastinate".
     
  18. Feb 4, 2014 #17
    This, this, this! I usually respond directly, but sometimes it is much easier to skip the step of answering and just asking why they are asking because I'm curious as to what they have in mind.
     
  19. Feb 4, 2014 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    Or with silence. :devil:
     
  20. Feb 4, 2014 #19

    Dembadon

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    Very insightful, phinds. This seems like a reasonable explanation.

    Haha! Touché.

    Her schedule is different almost every other week, so in my case, it's very difficult to make an assumption either way.

    Perfect responses!

    She's basically her own boss so her schedule isn't written in stone every week, but her clients are often flaky (it comes with the field). I wouldn't mind a, "Yes, I have work to do but it can wait. Why do you ask?" This clearly answers my question while communicating nothing is set in stone.
     
  21. Feb 4, 2014 #20

    BobG

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    This depends. What if the person asking likes to pretend they like hiking but constantly whines about their sore feet, etc for the entire hike; is a nice date for a movie unless the theater is crowded and there's only one good seat left, in which case they take the good seat and you sit alone in the front row; likes to be in a different place seeing new places, but constantly tells you how to drive while getting there; but is a fun person to get drunk with? Is it really polite to whine to them about their whining or to tell them how to be a proper passenger? Wouldn't it be better to find out why they want to know if you're working so you could politely lie if they wanted to do something you hated doing with them?

    Sometimes the truth is less polite than a lie.

    Or, worse yet, they could be wondering whether this was a good weekend to paint the basement or clean up a winter's worth of dog droppings, in which case I definitely want to lie and say I'm working and politeness has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Personally, I feel wanting me to answer a question before I know the reason for the question is just a sneaky and manipulative way of trying to get me to do something I don't want to do.

    Actually, I think the quote might be a binary question. I'm not even sure anymore as I can't even remember the last time I gave a binary answer.
     
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