Beware of Faux Questions

I want to thank Debby for a classic, one line zap designed to trigger defensiveness by imbedding criticism into a question:

What is wrong with YOU that you would….?!

Don’t fall prey to this. Being defensive and offering explanations will weaken you. Only answer questions that show a genuine desire to understand your views or actions. Many difficult people make the mistake of being critical and asking a question at the same time. The question always gets lost in the verbal volley that is triggered. Several examples of ways to coolly counteract (CC) these faux questions are offered below with (AAAH) EXPLANATIONS of what makes the responses effective:

  1. Act-as-if- it’s-all-good—admit, agree, compliment, gratitude.
  2. Asks questions—curious or hidden.
  3. Actively listens—rephrase, name feelings or behavior, sympathizing, validate.
  4. Hide suggestions—truism, false choice, underlying assumptions, reverse psychology, power words, random or unclear responses. Hidden suggestions are set off by ellipses and underscored.

Example #1:

CC1: So are you trying to say I’m defective or do you really… want to understand why I …?

Bully: Of course I want to understand!

CC2: Are you sure… you truly want to know my reasons for ….

EXPLANATION: The first CC asks a question that highlights the attempt to offend and offers a choice to admit that the bully’s aim is to insult or to actually make an effort to understand. It should be made with a tone of sincere curiosity. Even difficult people will take the high road, rather than owning up to being blatantly nasty. This multiple choice questions also hides the suggestion to want to understand. The power word, try, is used to imply that the attempt to point out flaws isn’t working.

If the bully’s tone of voice still sounds angry, a second question is posed to build impatience and focus attention. This creates an opportunity to hide another suggestion to understand and gives the person time to switch gears from debate to dialogue.

Example #2:

CC: Aw…You sound so frustrated, but thanks for … wanting to understand why I….

EXPLANATION: This CC actively listens by naming the person’s feeling. This type of empathy focuses on the vulnerable feeling underlying the more reactive anger. But is a power word that discounts everything that came before it and creates yet another opportunity to hide a suggestion to understand.

Example #3:

CC: Could you please be just a tad more harsh.

EXPLANATION: Reverse psychology in this CC politely encourages bullies to continue undesirable behavior, which puts the target in a no-lose position: bullies either cease uninvited behavior or the person’s true request is granted. Active listening puts the spotlight on the bully’s harsh tone, increasing self awareness, rather than focusing on others.

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The cruel comment, What is wrong with YOU? is often made by family and spouses. Sincere questions, empathy, and light-hearted reverse psychology are the ticket with the intimate insults.

For more information, please check out my books listed on this site: HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).