Never explain why to someone who asks.
Years ago, on an old episode of All In The Family, Archie (Bunker) and Mike (Stivic) were putting their socks and shoes on to go outside and handle a small emergency. Archie put on both socks then both shoes, and Mike put on a sock and a shoe over it, then the other sock and a shoe over it. “Wait a minute” complained Archie. “You’re doing it wrong. You’re supposed to put on both socks then both shoes.”
Who’s right? What is the right way to put on socks and shoes? As far as I’m concerned, the right way is whatever get socks and shoes on both feet. In other words, both methods are correct, as tempered by individual preference and the convenience of the moment. What’s wrong is telling someone they’re doing it wrong, however they’re doing it. (I’m assuming no one is putting their socks on over their shoes or whatever.)
A similar thing happened to me and my BF. We were getting off the subway, and he goes forward to the exit door, because that’s the way we needed to go to get to the stairway out. I, on the hand, went back because there were fewer people to squeeze around in that direction. Which way is right? Whichever way gets you onto the subway platform, of course.
Why do we feel we have to justify ourselves?
Getting back to Archie and Mike, what happened next was more interesting than the actual disagreement. They both felt it was necessary to justify their point of view by giving reasons for doing it the way they did. Archie said if there was a fire, and they had to run out after only two things, at least you would be balanced (and could run faster) if you had two socks on. Mike, on the other hand, said but if it were snowing, at least you could hop around on one foot.
I think both reasons are flimsy. But we’ve become so accustomed to giving reasons that we think they’re expected — or we are really asking permission to be allowed our point of view (of course you don’t need anybody’s permission to think what you want).
To this day I think, should I put my shoes and socks on Archie Bunker style or Mike Stivic style today? (My own personal joke.)
Beware the word why
This is how it usually goes: you tell me what you want me to do, and you give me a reason for it. Then I’m supposed to give you a counter-reason against it. Then you try to shoot down my counter-reason (salesmen call this “handling objections”).
The next step is for you to ask me what I want to do. Then you ask me why — in other words, you want a reason from me. Then it’s your turn to give me a counter-reason, and I’m supposed to shoot down your counter-reason.
And who wins this game? When person A gives an argument, and person B can’t shoot down that argument, then A wins. And what do they win? Person A just takes the attitude “now you have to do as I say”. (Person B is under no such obligation, of course.) But this is the point where a salesman will hand you the contract and offer to let you use his pen.
The expectation to say yes becomes so strong that to simply say no seems rude or illogical. And if you tell a salesman no at this point, then comes the dreaded question: why? When the prospect answers, that just gives the salesman more ammunition to use in the battle, and it goes on from there.
Remember, salespeople are given lots of training in what to say and when, and to never accept a no. They’ll just go around and around until you give in, unless you stand firm. As Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) said, salespeople never use the word no, because the customer might get the idea it might be okay for them to use the word as well.
As I’ve suggested, salespeople play this game a lot. They’re trained to keep the game going until there is a clear winner (as long as the winner isn’t the prospect). If the prospect drops his guard for just a little while, they go in for the kill.
And furthermore …
Once, years ago, I was working on a project at my job. A coworker of mine finds out what I’m working on, and offers me a suggestion. I already had a solution to that particular problem, one that would always work (his idea would have only worked “most of the time”, which wasn’t good enough), and I had no intention of seriously considering his idea. But he kept after me until I agreed to a short meeting (again, it would have seemed rude not to). We played the game of what – why – reason – counter-reason – shoot each other’s reasons and counter-reasons down until I finally got out of there and did what I wanted to do in the first place. In retrospect, I should have (a) told him to just **** off and leave me alone, or (b) told him what a wonderful idea he had — and then just did it my way, with him never knowing that.
Another game goes like this: you go into a drugstore and ask for a certain medication. They don’t have that, but they bring out something similar and act as if that’s the one you wanted and that’s the one you’re going to get (and aren’t they wonderful for taking care of your needs). But that won’t do, so you get into an argument, usually ending with “if I wanted that, I would have asked for it”. (This actually happened to me — in this case, the substitute would have made my acid indigestion problems worse.)
A variation of the above is when you ask for what you want, and they ask you what do you want it for. (Always run when they ask that.) This question is always the prelude to either answering the wrong question, or trying to sell you something you don’t want.
Sometimes they’ll keep yakity-yaking without coming up for air, so you never have a chance to end the conversation. (It would be rude, of course, to suddenly turn and walk away.) But if you back away slowly, you can usually leave at the first comma or semicolon you hear without too much difficulty.
What’s the take-away from all this? Over many years, I’ve decided I’ll gladly listen to someone’s idea or opinion, but if they start adding reasons, then I’ll start to get worried. I can smell a sales job a mile away. My own snap judgment is probably better anyway; there have been plenty of times when I made my decision, was talked out of it, and was then sorry I let that happen.
The best way to win the game of reasons is just to not play at all.
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