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The Worst Question You Can Ask Someone

It can be indirect, self-focused, and intrusive.

Key points

  • Indirect questions about interactions are often received poorly.
  • Assumptions may be experienced as annoying.
  • Try to avoid unclear and presumptuous questions.
Pexels/by Rodnae Productions
Source: Pexels/by Rodnae Productions

"Are you mad at me?"

It's a complicated and tricky question that rarely produces a good outcome for either the one asking it or the one answering.

As we go through our days, each of us has interactions with family members, coworkers, or others that can be confusing, unsatisfying, or fraught with conflict or anger. When confused about the reaction others have to us, we are inevitably curious and we then turn to a complicated question: "Are you mad at me?"

There are many reasons why this particular question is a dud, and it may be worth it to think twice before reaching into your repertoire and pulling it out.

  1. Annoying. The person you are asking may feel totally misunderstood by the question and feel that you're making unnecessary and incorrect assumptions. They may feel put on the spot, criticized, and challenged. If so, they will often become defensive and irritated.
  2. Self-Doubting. If you default to this question frequently, you may be perceived as lacking confidence. You may be unintentionally looking for reassurance which others are unprepared to give you.
  3. Indirect. You are probably hoping that the person is going to tell you that, of course, they are not mad at you. Ironically, this reassurance itself may backfire and lead to irritation and anger. After all, no one really likes to be told how to respond to a question, even if the answer is only implied.
  4. Self-Focused. Others experience this question as all about you and not about them. You are, in essence, creating a scenario where you're the victim of the other person's problematic feelings. They also may feel that you are trying to make them feel guilty about feelings they may not ever have had.
  5. Intrusive. Others may experience you as intrusive, needy, and demanding. Everyone appreciates having some emotional space. Sometimes less is more. If someone is actually angry at you, it is unlikely that you will need to ask. It will be clear.

I suggest staying away from this question, as it has few positive outcomes. If you are in a close relationship with someone and you are confused about their reaction to you, be curious, but do not make assumptions. In other relationships, try observing your interactions with others to attempt to figure out what works and what doesn't. The direct question about anger generally doesn't serve you or the others in your life in a satisfying manner.

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