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MBQ: Managing by Query

August 22, 2011

I ask you: why do I suddenly feel at liberty? as if I had just been born? as if I had just woken from a long, cosy nap on the beach? could it be that my daughter is in school — and not only school, but in that part of school where all she thinks about is school, and friends, and work, and clothes, and I am but a handmaiden to her story… and that finally I’ve learned, after years of practice, to manage by deflecting her questions with more questions.

She: “Have you seen my racket?”

I: “Why, no! Can you remember where you used it last?”

She: “Can you hand my my computer?”

I: “Sure! Can you step over here and toss the salad while I cross the room and get it?” said WITHOUT IRONY. This is the important stage direction.

In my experience, one cannot mock a child. It only seems to backfire. One may point out the absurdity, one may even raise the question: “are you not able to do it?” but mockery only breeds more mockery; once steeped in it they will turn it against you, and who wants that? Life is tricky enough.

Hence the question becomes a marvelous tool when one has, really, nothing to say but wishes nonetheless to be helpful. “I don’t know… what were you thinking?” “I really have no idea. Do you?” “I haven’t seen it, at all. Have you asked your father?” It is much better than the overused but clearly insincere “I’ll keep my eyes out for it,” which children in search of something lost quickly learn is the kiss of death. It is still better than “Well, you should have learned to xyz when you’re out xyzing,” a reprimand which only serves to humiliate, and better than “I’ll teach you to have something to cry about” which one would hope one never uses, ever, though one is sorely tempted. The deft question is a way of kicking the football down the field. It is a way of saying, “I care, but not that much.”

I hope this little lesson cheers you up.  If not, I could always ask: can you think of a better way? would you like to grill the salmon? have you seen my glasses?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011 11:52 pm

    Very nice Michele! I try to follow this approach as much as possible, but once in a while, I slip!

  2. shirah bell permalink
    August 23, 2011 9:02 pm

    this is delightful! the “without irony” is beautifully said. I will give it a try on my hubbie!

  3. Matt Nicodemus permalink
    August 24, 2011 6:05 am

    Just today, my son told me, “Don’t command me!” I admit, I haven’t been saying “Please.” Has he been watching Offspring Assertiveness Training videos on YouTube? I’ll be changing my ways.

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