Sunday, July 24, 2016

‘Yes’ is always wrong

Words don‘t mean the same thing to everyone. This holds even more so when doing intercultural projects. There have been extensive studies into that – yielding some surprising tools along the way.

Often I found that the simple word ‘Yes’ is a cornerstone of misunderstandings.

And for me that is true not only in intercultural contexts.

While a ‘yes’ to the question "Do you know Oliver Twist?" may mean “I‘ve heard of the novel” to some, it could mean “I've written my Ph.D. thesis on that subject” to others. And somebody else may know a person called Oliver Twist.

Because I've fallen prey to the ’yes-trap’ way too often I nowadays try to clarify my answers each time I catch myself answering ‘yes.’ And I try to avoid questions that can be answered by a simple ‘yes’. Asking “How do you know Oliver Twist?" makes both for a clearer answer as well as for a more interesting conversation.

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

1 comment:

Cosima said...

Nicely put, Michael. For me it's also about the so-called open & closed questions. If I pose a closed question like "Do you know Oliver Twist?" I am aware that I might just get yes/no answers. Sometimes this is what I want (e.g. when coming to a conclusion/to the point in a discussion) but as you describe it, I would also add an "Oh, and in what way do know Oliver Twist?" if I receive a "yes" on the first question. So this open question helps me to explore the map in my communication partner's mind a bit more.