8

Recently, I came across a person who keeps doing something I don't like them doing, for various reasons (though those actions are otherwise fine, just something I don't personally like). However, after repeatedly explaining to them why they shouldn't do that in my opinion, and good reasons for not doing that, they keep doing it.

Now, it could be that they have legitimate reasons for doing that thing. If so, I want to know those reasons, so that I can then stop telling them not to do it. Now, I could simply pull them aside, and ask:

Why did you keep doing [x] even after I told you not to do that?

This asks them "why" they did it, but often comes across as my being mad at them, and asking them for an apology rather than an explanation. (In fact, when the reverse situation applies to me, I usually respond with an explanation, but that comes across negatively as "justifying" my actions - in this case, I want the other person to respond in the manner generally considered "justifying".)

One option is to say:

Why do you keep doing [x]? Can you tell me the reason?

But in most cases when I used that, it didn't help, and in a few, it just added flame to the fire. There isn't even supposed to be a fire, I just want to ask for an explanation in a nice way. What's a good way to do that?

Update: I'd like to explain the specific situation that prompted me to ask this. I kept this hidden before because I thought people would be quick to reach for the "close" button without bothering to see that the question is on-topic and applicable to real-life situations as well. In fact, I want an answer that does explain in real life, because this has happened with me in real life too in the past quite a few times:

On a certain Stack Exchange site (my most active one), there is a user who goes around editing recent posts mostly for spelling and grammar, i.e. minor edits. On most posts, including all answers, open questions, and closed questions that were closed more than five days ago, this isn't a problem, and I appreciate what they do. However, on posts closed within the last five days, this presents a problem, and these constitute a significant proportion of their editing. If a question closed within the last five days gets edited, it goes into a review queue for possible reopening in case it was edited to fix the original problem with the post; as their minor edits do not fix the post so that the original close reason no longer applies, we have to vote against reopening the post (this creates extra work for three users, the required amount to dequeue the post). Additionally, posts are only added to that review queue once per closure by editing, so by making their minor edit, this user is depriving the post author of their chance to have their own question reopened.

Thus far, I've left comments pinging them on the posts they've edited, requesting that they refrain from editing posts closed within the last five days. Despite that, they have neither ceased editing such posts nor responded to a single one of my comments. I'd like to know why they still edit those posts. As I'm a reason-oriented person, giving me a good reason as to why they're doing it is enough for me to understand and stop questioning them.

In the spirit of one of the answers, I've attempted pinging them in a chat room on the site where this is happening, but they haven't responded to that at all.

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    Does the thing that they do affect you directly? Or is it just annoying / an eyesore that you can walk away from? – enlighten_me May 9 '18 at 7:41
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    @enlighten_me It just creates extra work for me and two others every time they do it. – gparyani May 9 '18 at 7:44
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    You say that you explained why they shouldn't do it in your opinion. Did they agree? Did they say they wouldn't do it again? – Kaspar Scherrer May 9 '18 at 7:55
  • @Cashbee They did not respond to any of my complaints. – gparyani May 9 '18 at 7:56
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    I have just deleted a whole discussion about the making of edits and reopen queues, that stuff belongs on meta and not underneath a question. Please keep it that way, and use comments only for suggesting improvements or requesting clarifications, in short, use them to improve this question. – Tinkeringbell Jun 16 '18 at 13:53
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As someone who also likes to understand why people do certain things, I'm going to offer an alternative answer to the one already listed.

I've found that regardless of how much explanation you give stating you really are not angry and that you only want to have a discussion, often if someone is already on the defensive about an action they know you aren't okay with, they'll usually only grow more defensive the longer the leading explanation is.

It seems like, from your past experience, your friend is already on the defensive when you approach this topic. He/she assumes you are going to be mad about the thing they keep doing. Instead of leading up to this conversation with a longer paragraph, aim for 1-2 sentences that focus on your needs, and not their lack of compliance to your request.

"Would you be able to explain your side of this? I think it'd help me be more understanding of this situation if I had a better understanding of why you want to keep doing this."

If they still seem defensive at this, now is a good time to add more context to your side of this discussion:

"I'm not angry, I just want to understand. When I first told you why I didn't like it, it seemed like my concerns were heard - so I felt confused when you kept doing it. I'd like to understand so that if it's something you genuinely do not want to stop doing, I can better understand why you want to keep doing it."

I'd recommend avoiding language like "let's have a calm discussion" and "I already told you I didn't like _____" because these have a tendency to put people on the defensive. The prior makes already defensive people feel as though you are assuming they can't have a calm discussion and the latter putting yourself in a position of superiority over them.

Stick to language that signals what you need - where that is that you need their help in understanding their point of view and NOT that you need them to explain why they haven't complied with your requests.

5

Actually, the best way to get this across to the other party is to explain to them your goals the way you did in your question. Saying something along the lines of

Hey there! Can I ask you a question?

Yeah, go ahead.

Before I ask, I just want to say that I'm not mad at anything, neither will I request anything from you. I just want to know the rationale behind the matter and have a calm and frank discussion. So, I just want to hear from you about [said action]. I previously attempted to tell you about why it may be a bad idea to do it (the action), however I noticed that you continued to do it. I just want to know the reason behind it, and nothing more. It would be good if you could tell me, so that I can understand your thought process and I can improve my way of doing things.

*italicised words and phrases are things that I feel are the more important words to include in your conversation.

You may feel that you are the one in the right, and that you don't want them to feel that you're the one in the wrong. However, if they are willing to state their reason behind it, then you will be able to reach a compromise with them much more easily.

Though I cannot provide all possible scenarios that this will result in, it is important that you keep your cool. Remember not to "shoot down" their reasoning straightaway and rebut with your own reasoning (no matter how much more intuitive or "correct" you think your reasons are). Seek to understand, then to be understood is probably the takeaway from these last couple of paragraphs.

3

Just to make it concrete let's say the person's name is Sam and you asked him not to touch you at all, even including not tapping your shoulder. You asked instead if he would wave his hand in your peripheral vision to get your attention.

You: "Hey Sam, I'm a little puzzled about something and I wonder if you can help me—got a minute?"

Sam: "Sure."

You: "A little earlier today you tapped me on the shoulder, and honestly, after asking you last Friday to wave your hand instead, I was surprised because I was pretty much expecting you not to do that any more. It really does bother me when people do that. Could you help me understand what's going on?"

This is a non-offensive yet direct way to seek the information you want. It makes it clear that you have an issue to talk about, but you don't assume a single thing about his motives, nor do you make interpretations or characterizations of his actions. You remain 100% factual. You got out of the way any complaints he could make about timing by asking if he had a minute.

You need to be prepared for answers he might give that aren't satisfying. You might get exactly what you want, but also he could surprise you with something upsetting or bizarre (to you) such as "Oh, I know you don't want me to, but it's not a big deal. I'm helping you get over your problem." Who knows how he may respond. However, you don't have to have an answer to everything. In the case where you're surprised, just say:

Huh. That is a surprising response. I did not see that coming! Okay, well, thanks for letting me know your thoughts on this. I'm going to have to think about it and will probably be getting back to you.

As long as you don't sound upset, then you can have all the time you need to figure out what to do next—even post here, or call a friend, or see a therapist, or just make a decision, whatever your process needs to be to move forward.

One aspect that I think is worth mentioning, though, is that there are times when we wish people wouldn't do things, but we have no right to really expect them to stop. It might be reasonable for the person to stop, but it may not be realistic.

The way you spoke about the things you're asking people not to do makes me suspect that you don't have a true right to expect them to stop. This method will still work just as well to gain insight, but you will likely have to handle a negative response differently.

Depending on the relationship—stranger, boss, spouse, friend, coworker, social club, etc.—you may also have the option of calling on the strength of that relationship. For example, with a coworker you might say:

"Sam, I totally respect you as a colleague and I'd really like to have a good working relationship with you, yet I'm having a hard time with the situation about you doing X. I don't want to make unfair demands or expect things that are unreasonable, though, so I wonder if you could tell me more about this situation—what am I missing? I honestly expected that you'd stop, but clearly my expectations were poorly matched to reality. Yet, X really does bother me and even distracts me from working sometimes. Can we figure out a path forward that works for both of us, even if it's just gaining better understanding?

This is a slightly less "it's all me" type of communication. You still are being very neutral, but you're presenting the issue as a problem between you, not just something that you "prefer". You've hinted that this issue may prevent you from having a good working relationship with him. And it affects your performance (distracting). Being direct in this way is so very hard to do, but it is the honorable path forward.

If at that point, your coworker says what amounts to "go stuff it" then you have more hard decisions to make. How can you win him over? Should you in fact get help from your boss? Is there a way to solve it without changing his behavior? Do something that directly fixes the problem such as (none of these are bribes): Wear headphones so you can't hear the noise, move your desk so you're farther from the problem, come in earlier so you have more time to yourself, come in later so he's already at lunch when you arrive, buy him a new pen that doesn't make click sounds, help him get a new chair purchased that's more comfortable but doesn't spin/make noise, etc., whatever might solve the problem.

The key is that you have choices, you can speak to people about problems in non-offensive ways, and you are not a doormat who has to take absolutely anything people send your way while remaining silent the whole time, having no voice.

2

When you include

even after I told you not to do that?

in your question, you are asserting that the expected norm is "I tell you not to do it, you stop doing it." Your question will be interpreted in that context. You are in charge of whether the person does it or not and can't understand why they won't stop.

This may be a fair position. If the thing is "interrupting me" then I am in charge of whether people can do that. If the thing is "taking my stuff" or "making a mess on my desk" then again, asserting my right to stop someone doing that is fine.

But if the thing is "wearing white pants in the winter" or "riding a bike to work" or a whole pile of things that aren't really your business, then explaining why they shouldn't do the thing is unlikely to work, and following up to ask why they haven't taken your advice yet isn't going to end well.

It seems like you want (insist on, demand) an explanation, and without it, you are going to keep right on telling the person not to do it. This makes no sense to me. Either it's your business (I don't want to smell your smoke or perfume; I don't like my desk being messed up; I feel harassed by those pinup images you use as a desktop background; I expect my spouse to be faithful to me) or it's not. But if there is some in-between area where you feel you're within your rights to order this person around, but will stop on receipt of a "good enough" reason, here's how to ask for it.

Hey, I noticed you're still X. We talked about it last week, so you know I don't like when you X because reasons. I kind of thought I had convinced you to stop.

pause.

So what did I miss? Why is this something you still do?

pause. listen. If you get a bunch of "it's my choice and it's not up to you"

I am not ordering you to stop X. I'm trying to understand why you X, what makes that a good thing for you. Because as you know, I just have all these reasons for not-X and clearly I am missing something.

Possibly elaborate on why your relationship (as coworkers, room-mates, siblings, neighbours or whatever) requires you to understand this about them.

If necessary,

I know I can't make you stop X. I can ask you to, because it's important to me, and I can tell you why it's important to me. But right now, I don't understand why it's important to you. I want to understand that.

Don't be surprised if for some people in your life they just laugh. They may tell you it's none of your business, it's their choice, and you don't get a vote. They may even be right -- your neighbour doesn't have to paint their house a colour you like, your coworker doesn't have to wear clothes you approve of as long as they are not actively offensive, your sibling doesn't have to date only people you want them to date. You may have to accept that.

0

You need to decide what do you really want: Do you want an explanation why they are doing it, or do you want them to stop doing it?

You are not saying anything about the actual situation, but I assume it's something that is wrong in your opinion, and something where I and most reasonable people would agree. So that person is a wrongdoer, and you want an explanation why they are doing this. Like asking a burglar why they are breaking into your home. Or asking your husband why he never puts the toilet seat down.

The problem with this is that the person would have to admit their intentional wrongdoing. The burglar hasn't thought about what he's doing and how it affects people. The burglar might say "Because I want your money and I don't care one bit about you". What would you expect the husband to say?

If there is good reason for doing the thing, they would have told you long ago. If there is no good reason for doing it, then your "why" question will quite predictably lead to very, very strong resistance. The only two things that are useful to say are "Stop doing it" and "Stop doing it, or else".

I just read your update. My answer is the same. What does it matter why he makes these edits? Explain to him why what he is doing is bad (which he might not have understood), and tell him to stop it. Or else. And find out what "or else" you can use to make him stop.

  • I made it clear in the question that I want an explanation. If they have a good explanation for what they're doing, I'll let them continue. The actual situation here is over the curation of an Internet website. – gparyani May 10 '18 at 0:39

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