Saturday, June 03, 2006

Think twice, Taskmaster

At work Friday, I called a local attorney who is opposing counsel in a case my boss is working on. He seemed perfectly pleasant, and we had a brief but cordial chat, in the course of which he referred to a specific report that was in his file. I mentioned that we didn't have a copy of that report, and he replied, ever so nicely, "I'll make my secretary fax it to you this afternoon."

It was just a poor choice of words, right? He couldn't possibly still think that way in this day of enlightened feminism. 'Cause I don't get it. Did he think she would object to faxing it to me? I can picture her now, standing with her arms crossed over her chest and a look of resolve on her face. "Hell, no!" she's saying. "No way will I fax that!"

There's a lesson here for any guys who happen to read this blog: Women will do almost anything for you if you ask nicely enough. But if you want to see passive aggression in all its glory, just order us to do something.

My second husband was a construction superintendent who was used to having a couple of hundred big, burly men do his bidding in order to build nuclear power plants and things. It seemed only natural to him, therefore, to kiss me goodbye in the morning and toss off a quick, "Pick up my dry cleaning today." Guess what. I didn't do it. Didn't have a chance. Too busy. Sorry, forgot about it. The next day, after I'd proved to myself that he couldn't control me, I'd go and pick up his dry cleaning. (I wasn't a complete asshole, after all.) All he had to do to get it the first day was to say, "Could you please pick up my dry cleaning today?" Consider it done.

I'm not saying we'd refuse to comply with an occasional directive issued hurriedly or casually. That happens all the time at work, and it's usually just a language short-cut to get the job done faster. At home, I don't think anybody would object to a quick "Scoot over just a little bit" or "Toss me that pillow right there." I'm talking more about a pattern of speech or an attitude that implies more control over another person than might be warranted.

At a stress-management seminar I attended once, the instructor spoke about reducing stress when dealing with employees and with family members. In both cases, he advised, "The first step is to give up your illusion of control." He said that if we desired certain behaviors in those around us, our best bet would be to set up situations (through reasonable requests, rewards and consequences) that would make them desirous of behaving the way we wanted. "Otherwise," he said, "you'll be continually frustrated, because the truth is, after people have reached their teens, you can't really control them."

So, just to be clear, I'm not telling you guys how to talk to the women in your lives. I'm just asking you to consider that you might get better results with a "would-you-please" approach.

By the way, the report we needed was faxed over later in the day. I wonder how he made her do it.


  1. Well, now, ain’t that just the truth!

    As I work with my husband, he often gets confused as to who’s the boss of what! Yes, I’ll do as he says – on the job – as long as it’s his job. But, when it comes to MY job, I’ll be the first one to give him orders! He seems to have problems, though, remembering that when we’re home, mama don’t play that!

    How many times would he have been able to curtail a fuss just by asking for something? Instead, he seems to think that if he “orders” it done, it will get done – right now! Weh-hell……..mama don’t play that!

    I don’t mind doing, but, please, don’t think I should do it just ‘cause I’m breathing! I mean, I’m a person, too! Ask me, just like you’d ask your friend, or your mother!

    I’m sure not all men (or women, as far as that goes!) are like that. I think there are just those that are set in their ways and have been allowed to do it. I don’t know. All I know is I have absolutely no control over any them…………except one!!!! :-)

  2. hmm. thank you for this. it was what i needed to hear today. the instructors words will be on my mind. thanks chick.

  3. My mother still says "what's the magic word?" when I ask her to get me something or do something and forget to say "please".

    There's an art to asking, if someone puts emphasis on the "please" so that it sounds sarcastic, such as "will you please fax Velvet this report?" making it sound like "if it isn't too much trouble for you to put down that cup of coffee and actually earn your salary, will you please fax this report to Velvet before working hours are over today?", then you might as well forget the "please". I still would have a problem doing it.

    Having said that, the guy probably mixed up the words "make" and "have". Or he never learned the difference. Perhaps someone should anonymously mail him a copy of "Miss Manners' Basic Training: Communication" or "Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn of the Millennium". ;-)

  4. Sounds like we all agree on this one.

  5. OMG that's it exactly. My whole life, I've bent over backwards for friends (mostly men) and will totally give them the shirt off my back, etc. What do I ask in return... a little appreciation and/or gratitude. Simple... one would think. Can't tell you how many men blew the chance to be with me... and regret it once they see with the clarity of hindsight.

  6. I know what you mean, Laura. For years I took my husband a cup of coffee in bed. It was my little gift to him. Then one weekend morning he woke me up and said, "Where's my coffee?" When I realized it had changed from a gift to an expectation, I went out and bought a timer for the coffeepot and shut down my little coffee delivery service.

    Austin, I'm curious. Did keeping the instructor's words in mind help with whatever your situation was?


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