Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Yes or no…

Don’t ask a yes or no question unless the person being asked can say no without hesitation.

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If you like my aphorisms and you want to remember any one of them, I think this may be one of the most important to remember. It is probably the rule that when we ask a yes or no question, we expect a yes. And if we don’t get that yes, we let the other person know—in no uncertain terms—that they should reconsider their answer. This is especially true in circumstances in which the question is merely a formality, asked by someone in a position of power, and the question is simply proffered in order to demonstrate workplace civility. The person being asked in such a manner usually knows the game and answers yes, dutifully. However, it is my contention that in such situations, if an order is being given, it should be given as an order—politely delivered, of course (perhaps with a “please”). In situations in which such assumptions are not applicable, it is a very bad idea to ask a yes or no question in such a way that the person cannot easily say no. If the person says no, it is critical to accept the answer—without question or challenge. There are very few circumstances in which doing otherwise is justified or advised. If you do not follow this rule, the other person will resent you and your question, and they will be less likely to trust your integrity in the future. Their commitment to an “agreed” course of action will be equivocal at best. Bottom line: asking a yes or no question of another person and not accepting their answer disvalues the other person. Challenging an answer is only justified when you feel the other person may not be aware of important facts—and it is believed that if the other person knew of such facts, they might appreciate knowing them and could use them to come to a more informed decision.

Note: This aphorism applies equally to any question for which a “no” is expected.

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