If You Have To Ask, You Can’t Afford It

“Do you love me?”

“No.” After 25 years, my husband gets to say that when I ask a stupid question.

“I had a question to ask. Can I interrupt you for a minute?”

“Why is it that you always call when I’m trying to write?”

“I’m trying to be more collaborative with you. And we’re in the store and I want to buy these shoes, but they’re $89.99.”

“Are they new?”

“Well that’s the thing, they’re a little bit used. But I checked eBay and we can make a $300 profit for sure.”

“Nothing is for sure. Put the shoes back and leave me alone. I’m writing.”


* * *

If you have to ask, the answer is no. One time my boss put it this way:

“If you’re coming to me, I can guarantee that the plan is a little bit wonky.”

Let’s play Family Feud, shall we? Where Steve Harvey says:

“What kinds of questions do you ask, where you already know the answer is going to be ‘no’?”

  • “So can I have your number?”
  • “What’s your timeline on making a hiring decision?”
  • “Do I look fat in this dress?”

Consider how we deal with questions in consensus-building.

Only a doofus walks into the meeting cold and asks, “Hey, what do you all think?” For about ten years, I was that doofus.

As a colleague recently reminded me, highly evolved consensus-builders work the room in advance of the group convening. They approach each person one at a time, soliciting input in such a way that the answer becomes the listener’s idea rather than the asker’s.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

  • Decide on a goal.
  • Do your homework.
  • Then calculate the risk of jumping.

If you still have to ask another person, you know you’ve overshot the mark.

Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Sasvata (Shash) Chatterjee / Flickr

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Bill Long

Wait a minute, I thought “What’s your timeline on making a hiring decision?” was one of the ‘safest, non-threatening’ questions you could ask in an interview. I agree with the suggestion to be a ‘goal-setter’ but also believe asking another’s opinion can be part of the ‘homework’ or research connected to preparation in advance of jumping. Guess it all sounds ‘a little wonky’ to me and I’m not sure entirely, where you were going. I also detect a poorly disguised euphemism for ‘manipulator’ in the phrase ‘highly evolved consensus-builders’. Is ‘seasoned communications professional’ code for glib, directionless, blogger? I’m sorry, what was the purpose again? I’m not getting the picture; perhaps it was left on the editing room floor.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Thank you for your feedback Bill. Clearly the post raised your hackles. I would argue that asking about the hiring timeline doesn’t really help one’s case and sounds like fishing. As for consensus-building, people will always disagree on whether it’s inherently a manipulative activity, therefore evil. Personally it just makes sense to me to engage people and make your case with them. It’s the intention, the cause, and whether you mislead or lie that make the difference between skilled communication and propaganda. Again I do appreciate the feedback although I have to admit I am a little taken aback by its tone. Perhaps it’s the way it was written or perhaps there is something about professional communication that strikes you as immoral.

Bill Long

Ha ha! Touche’ Dannielle, touche’. Sorry if the ‘tone’ came off as negative. I’ve read several of your other submissions and would classify your writing style (of the pieces I read) as hip, edgy, and bold! Some more informative than others, but none necessarily straightforward in approach or manner. So, I challenged you, …as clearly your writing challenges me, and I’m pleased to find your reply more direct and comprehensible. As your mom might say, “Tell it to me like I’m stupid.” I’m not afraid to admit, I have plenty to learn….why else would I be here on Gov Loop? Thank you Dannielle for educating me, and for your refreshing style and prose! 🙂

Dannielle Blumenthal

thanks. I checked out some of the other conversations and comments with Mark Hammer, Peter Sperry and yourself and better understood where you were coming from.

also my writing can incomprehensible to some more linear thinkers…it does take getting used to.