Answering the question that is asked.

I have decided that from now on I am going to answer the questions that are asked, only the questions that are asked, and not attempt to discern what it is that the person really wants/needs to know. Yes, this does in fact mean that I have chosen to be an asshole. I know it will piss people off, and that they will blame me for telling them what they ask to know rather than what they need to know. I know that it will at times cost people money, and will cause friction between us when it does.

I’m going to be that asshole anyway. It costs me money to spend my time asking clarifying questions and receiving meaningless answers couched in bullshit excuses in response. It costs me money to avoid that by delivering four answers knowing that only one of them is needed but not which one of the four it might be. It’s not really right that I should take that burden on — I have to write out four lengthy paragraphs, written carefully and precisely, because someone else wanted to write only one sentence instead of two or three? In its simplest form: Fuck that.

Yes, indeed, it will be shitty of me to do what people ask of me rather than what they need from me. But whose fault is it if you get what you ask for rather than what you need?

Once upon a time in the 1980’s I was the service department manager and senior field engineer of an electronics manufacturer in beautiful Huntington Beach, CA. It was a real trick to juggle both of those titles, but superhuman feats are just the normal course of business for me. 😀 I had a novel idea for a perq: If I was in a place on business that happened to be a nice place to visit, I’d take a day or two or five as vacation when the work was done, covering my own expenses during my vacation time, which usually saved the company money and got me trips I could never afford to take on my own. Then my boss somehow caught wind of it, and figured he’d swoop in and steal the trips to destinations he wanted to visit. What an asshole. He didn’t take the trips to places that sucked, or to work in conditions that sucked.

My boss was a peculiar guy who exemplified the Peter Principle. I only dealt with him when I needed approval for an expense that was beyond my authority, so I thought it important that he know why I felt it necessary. The third or fourth time around, though, he guffed me out for “over-explaining”. Well, okay then… Here, please sign this. What is it? I don’t want to bore you with the details. Oh, okay. That’s actually how it usually went. We had that very conversation many times, in and out in 20 seconds — 15 of them spent by him pretending to be reading the thing he was signing.

So, when he came to me one day and asked, “How hard is it to…?”, I didn’t ask any clarifying questions or even think to question why he might want to know. I just said, “Not very hard at all”. He strolled away happy, and then swooped in and stole my upcoming trip to some place on the African continent. He thought it’d be cool to go on a hot air balloon photo safari. The bastard. I didn’t really want the trip, didn’t want most of them that I took, but he wasn’t and had never been a field engineer and any messes he made would become mine to clean up. Besides, I was the first manager in the history of the company to make the service department profitable, and I didn’t want a return trip to the far side of the world coming out as a warranty service cost.

Boy, was he pissed off at me when he got back. I’d told him that the job was not very hard at all, but he’d found it to be inordinately difficult and the job had gone into overtime, cutting his planned four day vacation down to just two. Not only that, it cost both him and the company money. I was highly amused. I told him that he hadn’t asked how hard it might be for him to do it, only how hard a job it was. He’s the one who told me to “stop over-explaining things”. If I’d gone instead, the job would have concluded a day ahead of schedule.

The next time he tried to swoop on a field trip the CEO put the kibosh to it. I wasn’t aware of it until my boss dropped in to give me shit about blocking his swoop — and he got interrupted by my (shared) secretary who overheard it and came in to say that it was her doing. He swallowed hard because the secretary was also the CEO’s wife. 😀 A few days later I was drunk in Honolulu, partying it up with the customer whose credit card was buying our drinks. And ten or twelve days after that, drunk in Fremantle with the same customer and his credit card.

Sometimes it pays to be just that kind of asshole.




8 thoughts on “Answering the question that is asked.

  1. promisesunshine

    what a great story.
    i also get grief for answering questions. asking them too. because why go through 10 questions when the last one is the one you really want the answer to. let’s not waste time.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      With my father as the ultimate expression of it I’ve come to understand why some people will ask a series of prefatory questions, and have just come to accept that with them the only way to avoid hurt feelings is to go along for the ride. I might not go along, but I know what to expect if I don’t.


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